Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Escaping the Bush

Luxury hotels and golf: welcome to the Green Zone

Pentagon airs plan to turn Baghdad military redoubt into a chic urban oasis

A plan by US military planners for the

A plan by US military planners for the "Tigris Woods Golf and Country Club" in the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq.

Picture, if you will, a tree-lined plaza in Baghdad's International Village, flanked by fashion boutiques, swanky cafes, and shiny glass office towers. Nearby a golf course nestles agreeably, where a chip over the water to the final green is but a prelude to cocktails in the club house and a soothing massage in a luxury hotel, which would not look out of place in Sydney harbour. Then, as twilight falls, a pre-prandial stroll, perhaps, amid the cool of the Tigris Riverfront Park, where the peace is broken only by the soulful cries of egrets fishing.

Improbable though it all may seem, this is how some imaginative types in the US military are envisaging the future of Baghdad's Green Zone, the much-pummeled redoubt of the Iraqi capital where a bunker shot has until now had very different connotations.

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Taliban ban TV in Afghan province

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents have ordered residents of a province near the capital Kabul to stop watching television, saying the networks were showing un-Islamic programs, officials and local media said on Tuesday.

The order is the last in a wave of curbs that the resurgent militants have announced in areas they are active.

A senior Afghan information ministry official, Najib Manelai, said that dozens of masked men with weapons entered mosques in Logar province at the weekend and threatened residents against watching television

"They threatened the people that 'if you do not give up watching televisions, you will face violence'," Manelai told Reuters.

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Michael Moore readies "Fahrenheit 9/11" follow-up

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore has begun work on a "searing and provocative" follow-up to his 2004 political documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," with plans to release it next year, producers said on Tuesday.

The as-yet untitled movie is being co-financed and distributed by two small studios -- Overture Films, a subsidiary of John Malone's Liberty Media Corp, and Paramount Vantage, an art-house label of Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures.

Moore, the writer and director, began work on the project in recent months and agreed to a spring 2009 commercial release, deliberately choosing to launch the movie after this fall's U.S. presidential election, said Overture's chief operating officer, Danny Rosett.

In keeping with Moore's penchant for secrecy surrounding his projects, the studios divulged few details of his latest work except to describe it as "a searing and provocative follow-up" to "Fahrenheit 9/11."

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Somebody Painted Their Car To Look Like Hillary Clinton

And now they will have that to live with for the rest of their life.

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McCain Touts Green Policies At Wind Energy Firm - But He Opposed Their Key Legislation

by Sam Stein

Over the past few years, Sen. John McCain has earned maverick stripes by taking a stance on climate change that few of his Republican colleagues share. His bucking of party orthodoxy has had its benefits on the presidential campaign trail. This Monday, for instance, the senator is slated to appear before a wind power plant to tout the merits of such environmentally friendly technologies.

"Wind power is one of many alternative energy sources that are changing our economy for the better," McCain will say, according to prepared remarks. "And one day they will change our economy forever."

But back in 2005, when McCain had the chance to vote for a bill that would have included the largest expansion of financial incentives to produce clean wind energy, he didn't. And the clean energy firm he will address today -- Vestas Wind Technology, a Portland, Oregon business planning to build the world's largest turbine factory -- is part of a trade association that pushed aggressively for the legislation.

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Bob Barr Throws Down Gauntlet to Ron Paul

by Jonathan Stein

bob-barr.jpg Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr is declaring his bid for the Libertarian Party's nomination for president today. Barr, who is perhaps most well-known for his high-profile role in the Clinton impeachment proceedings, left the Republican Party in 2006 and says that his run for the presidency will provide voters with a "genuinely conservative" alternative to John McCain. A recent Zogby poll had Barr taking three percent of the vote in a general election match-up between Obama and McCain. As you might expect, Republicans are trying to convince Barr not to run.

This creates an interesting drama on the libertarian right. While Ron Paul is the country's preeminent libertarian, he has repeatedly declined to run for president as anything other than a Republican. But he has refused to endorse John McCain (and even gone so far as to praise Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy), leaving the door open for a run as a third-party candidate.

So here are the key questions. Will Ron Paul run as a candidate in the Libertarian Party?

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Televangelist John Hagee apologizes to Catholics


WASHINGTON - John Hagee, an influential Texas televangelist who endorsed John McCain, apologized to Catholics Tuesday for his stinging criticism of the Roman Catholic Church and for having "emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews."

Hagee's support for McCain has drawn cries of outrage from some Catholic leaders who have called on McCain to reject Hagee's endorsement. The likely Republican nominee has said he does not agree with some of Hagee's past comments, but did not reject his support.

In a letter to William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, Hagee wrote: "Out of a desire to advance a greater unity among Catholics and evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful."

Donohue, one of Hagee's sharpest critics, said he accepted the apology and planned to meet with Hagee Thursday in New York.

"I got what I wanted," Donohue said in an interview. "He's seen the light, as they like to say. So for me it's over."

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Billo's Most Race-Baiting Column EVER!

by Steve Young   

May 10, 2008 – Hollywood (HuffPo / – In one of the most incendiary columns ever written, Race and the Presidential Election,  Bill O'Reilly sets the race-bait bar to record-breaking... depths. 

Short of saying that Barack Obama wants to sleep with your pearly-white daughter, O'Reilly uses just about every button meant to alarm his white fans to the fact that Barack Obama is BLACK and that just his running for, let alone becoming, president, could set off race-laced fireworks.

While there's no question, as he did on his TV Factor Friday night, Bill will say it's not race-baiting if you're just reporting the facts (despite the brilliant Prof. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill's protestations), here are just a few comments from Bill's column...

Obama seems to be in.  Now comes the hard part—convincing Americans that he is the best choice for president without all hell breaking loose on the race front.

Since when does convincing Americans that a candidate is the best choice lead to "hell breaking loose," unless you want your reader to believe it can?

Thanks partly to Reverend Wright's now immortal 'the USA of KKK' remark, the race factor has emerged big time in this election. If you don't believe me, just look at the vote in North Carolina and Indiana.

Reverend Wright, Reverend Wright, Reverend Wright.  Remember, Bill's just reporting the facts, not reminding voters over and over that Obama was connected to someone who thinks you (white) Americans are haters.

Also, as Al Sharpton told me, any kind of superdelegate shenanigans will lead to massive demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in Denver which, of course, would be disastrous for the party.

Hmm.  Al Sharpton?  Massive demonstrations?  Disastrous?   Nope.  Move along, Folks.  No fear-monger, race-baiting here.

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Jon Stewart Speaks Brutal Truth to Power (Douglas Feith Interview)

This clip will be all over the place by daybreak, including here. Doug Feith decided it would sell some books if he dropped by The Daily Show, which he did tonight. He ended up getting very effectively and very powerfully dressed down by Stewart for the disinformation campaign they waged against the public in the run-up to the war.

This is a little something we like to call re-entering earth's atmosphere without your heat shields. Quite possibly Stewart's best "get." Here are the unedited interview segments.

Part 1:

Part 2:


No More Student Loans? Good.

By Ted Rall

First came school vouchers, subsidizing private schools with public money. Now, as the economy contracts, the government faces mounting pressure to pour increasing amounts of our tax dollars into private colleges and universities as well.

The push comes from two fronts: a desire to make sure that student loans keep flowing in spite of the credit crunch, and to raise benefits for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are guaranteed an education under the GI Bill.

Student loans are a big segment of the banking industry, amounting to about $85 billion last year. Until recently, they were also hugely profitable. But the credit crunch has caused some lenders to pull out of the federal program. As a result, the pool of money for college loans available has fallen 13 percent.

Congress is considering various ways to make sure students can continue to borrow the money they need. The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 (ECASLA) would increase the amount lent directly by the government. Another Senate bill, supported by Bush, would let the government buy student loans from banks to free up capital for additional loans.

Other bills seek to make college more affordable for veterans, many of whom say they are getting screwed. "They were rather good at saying, 'Join the Marines and get an education; you'll have an opportunity to go to college,'" recalls Kevin Grafeld, 23, a part-time student from Long Island, New York. Despite serving five years in Iraq, he gets a mere $875 per month--not even enough to pay for the community college he attends as a part-time student. "I was 18 and a little naïve," Grafeld told Newsday. A bill sponsored by Jim Webb of Virginia, a Democrat, would pay for tuition up to the cost of the most expensive public university in a veteran's home state, plus room and board.

How much would these bills cost? It's like Iraq: no one knows. Sponsors say the feds would actually come out ahead on ECASLA, earning a cool $450 million a year in interest and fees on the backs of college kids.

I have a better idea. Do nothing.

Student loans aren't a solution to skyrocketing tuition. They're its cause.

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Pray-in at S.F. gas station asks God to lower prices

by David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Rocky Twyman has a radical solution for surging gasoline prices: prayer.

Twyman - a community organizer, church choir director and public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C., suburbs - staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday, asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday, with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in. Today he will lead members of an Oakland church in prayer.

Yes, it's come to that.

"God is the only one we can turn to at this point," said Twyman, 59. "Our leaders don't seem to be able to do anything about it. The prices keep soaring and soaring."

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Happy birthday Jethro Tull, still packing them in after 40 years

Under the radar of the media, the band are embarking on an anniversary tour. Ian Anderson explains their success


Jethro Tull in 1970

If the czars of musical fashion had their way, Jethro Tull would have ceased to exist decades ago. Tull music is a fanciful mélange of prog rock, metal and folk, laced with classical lite and a smattering of Monty Python whimsy. The White Stripes they are not. The band haven't had a Top Ten single since 1970 and their most famous song (Aqualung) portrays - perhaps rather too sympathetically - a pervert on a park bench. Oh, and their oeuvre is almost entirely undanceable.

And yet ... Ian Anderson and his troupe are currently embarked on a globe-straddling 40th anniversary tour, packing out the enormodomes of America en route. In the febrile world of pop, where the average NME-endorsed hipster crashes and burns after a couple of indie hits, the Tull are a ruggedly reliable stock, playing 70-plus gigs every year and quietly flogging 60 million-plus albums. Celebrity fans range from Nick Cave and Stephen King to Geoff Hoon and Russia's President-elect.

So, in the face of near-total media indifference in their homeland, how has Anderson, 60, contrived such a successful career? Culled from a meeting at his discreetly splendid Wiltshire pile, amid his 400-acre farm, here are a few tips to success the Jethro Tull way.

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Red State Update: Hillary Wins Pennsylvania


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Einstein letter shows disdain for religion

By Stephen Adams

The great scientist's views on religion have long been debated, with many seizing upon phrases such as "He [God] does not throw dice" as evidence that he believed in a creator.

But the newly-unveiled letter, a response to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, has cast doubt on the theory that Einstein had any belief in God at all towards to the end of his life.

In the letter, dated January 3 1954, he wrote: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

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Google grilled on human rights

Google shareholders voted down two proposals that would have compelled the search giant to implement more stringent human rights policies

by Nancy Gohring (IDG News Service)

Google's shareholders, following the advice of the board, voted down two proposals on Thursday that would have compelled the search giant to change its human rights policies, but the issue dominated the company's annual shareholder meeting nevertheless.

Sergey Brin, cofounder and president of technology for Google, abstained from voting on either of the proposals. "I agreed with the spirit of these proposals," Brin said. But he said he didn't fully support them as they were written, and so did not want to vote for them.

Several US-based technology companies have been criticized for their activities in China. Google has come under fire for operating a version of its search engine that complies with China's censorship rules. Google was criticized for launching a search service in 2006 aimed at Chinese users that blocks results considered objectionable to the Beijing government. Google argues that it's better for it to have a presence in the country and to offer people some information, rather than for it to not be active in China at all.

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Scientists Get a 2nd Life

Online world opens up news ways to do and learn about science
In the online virtual world known as Second Life, scientists conduct real research projects. Neurobiologist Corey Hart, for example, studies hopping movements in Simfrog, one of a series of "living" creatures that survive, evolve and interact in a virtual ecosystem.C. Hart

To track down neuroscientist Corey Hart, you could stop by his laboratory, located on the second floor of Drexel University's medical building in Philadelphia. Or, you could visit the lab of Luciftias Neurocam, located in the virtual world of Second Life.

Luciftias is Hart's digital alter ego, or avatar. Like his real-life counterpart, Luciftias tracks the twitches of frogs' muscles to find clues to the spinal cord's ability to control movement.

Robert Amme, a physicist at the University of Denver, has a laboratory in Second Life, too. There his avatar double, Dr. Bob Vandeverre, is building a virtual nuclear reactor to help train the next generation of environmental engineers on how to deal with nuclear waste.

Hart and Amme are pioneers among a growing number of scientists and educators now using the online world of Second Life to pursue real-life science.

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Boot Camp for Print and Online Magazine Editors

A boot camp for assigning editors

WHEN 4 weeks, May 27 - June 19
Online chats: Thursdays, 9-10 pm EST

WHERE Online. Click here for more information.

LEVEL Intermediate/advanced

$350 ($325 for )
more info

Course Details

Journalism school doesn't teach you how to be a magazine editor. So where are you going to learn what it really takes? If you already have the requisite type-A personality and a sense of humor, this class will guide you through everything from finding original story ideas to handling kill fees to editing copy for online publications. You'll even get advice on things you didn't even know to ask about.

Over the course of four weeks, you'll learn how to edit various styles of articles for print and online, make stories more effective for online publication, master the assignment letter, delve into the writer-editor relationship, and manage freelancers. This class will be a mix of lecture, discussion, and critique of homework assignments, and will require about three hours a week of outside work. This is a rigorous class for students who are interested in building on the experience they already have to distinguish themselves in the field through editing, people skills, and the art of magazine making.

In this class, you will learn:

  • How to edit a variety of stories, from a front-of-the book piece to a literary profile
  • What makes a compelling lede
  • How to revise without rewriting
  • Copy editing marks, clichés to avoid, and all the other minutiae that come with being an editor
  • How to avoid the heartbreak of bad copy by building a Rolodex, choosing the best writer for the assignment, and setting them up to succeed
  • How to craft a revise letter that gets the results you need
  • How to analyze magazines and generate story ideas

By the end of class, you will have:
An understanding of the editing business, essential skills and systems for editing, the ability to assign and work, and the skills to prepare for your dream job.

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Our Favorite Writers Pick Their Favorite Obscure Books


Wave hello to some curious lit picks.
Photograph of Angie Pontani and the World Famous Pontani Sisters at Union Hall by Amy Pierce. Styling by Daniel Opdahl.

Ah, summer! The time to kick back in the sun, sucking up both gin and tonics and intellectual stimulation. But why be the hundredth person on the beach getting sand in Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth or smudging Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion with SPF 45? Put some idiosyncrasy into your life, folks! To help guide you through the waters of the literary unknown, we asked a number of authors to name their favorite obscure book. Below, their replies, which we pass along as suggestions for your arcane summer reading.

Jennifer Egan
You Can't Live Forever, by Harold Q. Masur

In recommending the mystery novels of Harold Q. Masur—all, sadly, out of print—I can do no better than quote the first two paragraphs of You Can't Live Forever:

"It started with a summons, a brunette, and a Turk.

"The summons was in my pocket, the brunette was in trouble, and the Turk was dead."

In his savvy, stylish novels of the '40s and '50s, Masur manages to wink continuously at the detective genre even as he revels in it.

Egan is the author of The Keep.

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Digital Rights Misery: When Technology Is Designed to Fail

by Jeff Porten

Here's the summary of what the CEA wants you to know:

  • On 17-Feb-09, analog TV broadcasts in the United States will be cut off and replaced by digital-only transmission.
  • That will free up all of the current analog broadcast spectrum that is now being used for Law and Order episodes and Head-On commercials. The CEA strongly wants to imply that this spectrum will go to police and firefighters, as opposed to making billions of dollars for consumer electronics industries.
  • The CEA repeats ad nauseam that you'll continue to get free broadcast TV, and all you need to do is add a converter box to your old TV. That will cost around $50, but there will be a $40 coupon from the federal government. This is starting now, in 2008, in an apparent bid to drive voters to the Libertarian Party when they realize Uncle Sam is buying everyone a new gadget.

But if you're a member of a typical American family, your home is populated with more televisions than people, and each of your older sets will need its own converter. Charmingly, even then your old TV is probably the wrong aspect ratio (4:3 versus the increasingly common 16:9; your widescreen Mac is 16:10, just to make it more confusing), so 25 percent of your screen will generally be filled with thrilling black bars.

Reading between the lines, you won't be forced to buy one or more new TVs next year, but you're probably going to anyway. Eventually, your analog sets will go the way of TVs with UHF dials. Note to younger TidBITS readers: "UHF channels" are where we used to go, late at night, to watch really bad movies and sitcom reruns. This is why your parents still think cable TV is niftier than you do, and why we're amused when you choose to watch TV Land and really bad movies.

The truth is that you will see a vastly improved experience with the new technology. In the past we've seen upgrades from black-and-white to color, and from broadcast channel selection to the far greater bandwidth of coaxial cable; digital television, likewise, is the sort of change that will eventually make you wonder how you ever got by in the old days.

Unfortunately, the upgrade is coming with a cost, and one that's greater than the mere price of a shiny new TV.

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Stephen King fires back after blogger attacks remarks

By The Associated Press

BANGOR, Maine — Stephen King has fired back at conservative critics who attacked him over a remark he made a month ago at a writers symposium for high school students.

A blogger jumped on King's statement at the Library of Congress about the importance of reading in which he suggested poor readers have limited prospects, including service in the Army.

"I don't want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don't, then you've got the Army, Iraq, I don't know, something like that. It's not as bright," King said at the April 4 event in which he was accompanied by his wife Tabitha and son Owen.

Blogger Noel Sheppard likened the comment to former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's remarks that if you don't get a good education, "you get stuck in Iraq."

"Nice sentiment when the nation is at war, Stephen," Sheppard wrote.

King fired back Monday.

"That a right-wing-blog would impugn my patriotism because I said children should learn to read, and could get better jobs by doing so, is beneath contempt," he said in a statement posted on his Web site.

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Warner/DC comics shuts down children's cancer charity auction over trademark


Alex sez,

Thomas Denton of comic blog Say It Backwards has a nephew who was diagnosed with cancer. A charity called Candlelighters helped his family out. Thomas decided to use his connections in the comics world to organize some charitable auctions featuring original artwork by various artists to give something back to the organization. Apparently Time Warner (who own DC comics, who in turn own Superman, Batman and most of the cool superheroes who wear capes) objected to the selling of the pieces featuring their copyrighted and trademarked characters on eBay, specifically Superman from what I understand.

Using characters owned by the major comic book corporations is pretty common in charity auctions at comic book conventions. This is not to mention that if you go on eBay right now there are a lot of auctions for artwork featuring those same characters, none of which Time Warner seems to be going after.

Thomas has posted a statement apologising to everyone involved in the affair (artists, bidders), but it doesn't seem right that he's been left holding the bag for trying to something for sick kids. Some letters to Time Warner's PR department might make them think twice about sending out cease and desist orders so wantonly, and who knows, might even prompt them to kick some cash Candlelighters' way.


Hi-tech face recognition cameras used in Budgens to spot underage drinkers

Underage drinkers who attempt to buy alcohol may be thwarted by the technology that police use to identify suspected criminals.

A supermarket chain is introducing face recognition cameras to prevent staff mistakenly selling cigarettes and alcohol to under-18s.

Face recognition: Will be used to stop underage drinkers buying alcohol

The biometric technology is being piloted by Budgens at one of its London branches.

If successful, it could be rolled out across the country to create a database of youngsters who try to buy alcohol.

The system alerts a cashier if it 'recognises' someone who has previously been unable to prove they are 18.

It is believed to be the first time a British retailer has used the technology in this way.

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Obama Needs Only 14 More Delegates to End Clinton's (and Everyone's) Misery

by David Swanson

Wild Wonderful West Virginia may, when the last vote is counted (or tossed out) give Senator Clinton 18 pledged delegates and Senator Obama 10. It'll be pretty close to that, and if that's the final count, then the new totals will be Obama 1,602 and Clinton 1,440. There are 189 delegates left to be pledged. Of those, Clinton must win 176 of them, or 93 percent, in order to beat Obama. Obama, on the other hand, only needs to win 14 more delegates for the whole charade to be over. There are 103 delegates on the line next Tuesday in Kentucky and Oregon. There's not a single employee of any of the media outlets promoting this phony contest that believes Obama could possibly win fewer than 14 delegates in Kentucky and Oregon.

Just as it has been over for several months, it's still over.

The contest may be even more over than these numbers suggest. At least one pledged delegate (in Maryland) has said he will go against the voters of his state and switch his vote from Clinton to Obama.

John Edwards has 19 delegates, and he is expected to encourage them to back Obama.

Among super delegates Obama also has a majority.

But these are all types of delegates not chosen by voters. Among pledged delegates chosen by voters and caucus goers - that is, among the only delegates who should count - it's over.

Clinton cannot win. Period. She can only hope for an anti-democratic coup by Super Delegates that would destroy the Democratic Party. And she'd have to be delusional to even hope for THAT at this point.

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Evil Mad Scientists

What do you get when you mix a 1970's style analog chart recorder, an 8-bit microcontroller, and a Fisher-Price Doodle Pro? A truly 21st century toy: An analog PlotBot with e-paper display technology!