Thursday, June 5, 2008

Everything is okay

Website Lets You Send a Post-Rapture E-Mail to Friends 'Left Behind'

By Kevin Poulsen

Rapture If millions of Christians suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth as the opening act for Armageddon, Threat Level thinks most nonbelievers will be too busy freaking the hell out to check their e-mail. But if they do log in, now they can be treated to some post-Rapture needling from their missing friends and loved ones, courtesy of web startup

For just $40 a year, believers can arrange for up to 62 people to get a final message exactly six days after the Rapture, that day when -- according to Christian end times dogma -- Christians will be swept up to heaven, while doubters are left behind to suffer seven years of Tribulation under a global government headed by the Antichrist.

"You've Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends for Christ," reads the website, which is purportedly run "by Christians, for Christians." The domain name is registered through an anonymous proxy service, presumably to protect the proprietors from the Forces of Darkness, and not because they're up to anything shady.

The e-mails will be triggered when three of the site's five Christian staffers "scattered around the U.S." fail to log in for six days in a row -- a system that incorporates a nice margin of safety, should two of the proprietors turn out to be unrepentant sinners or atheists.

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Gas prices haven't put Hummers in park...yet

The Hummer H2 gets about 10 mpg.

Fans aren't giving them up

The Hummer, it would seem, does not just have fair-weather fans.

Even as gasoline prices tick continuously upward, Matthew Lee's affection for his Hummer H2 has not headed south.

He does feel a little stuck with it, though.

"The market on them has basically dried up," said Lee, a law student.

Lee is not planning on getting rid of his Hummer. But GM might be.

The automobile manufacturer announced Tuesday that it is considering revamping the brand or selling it. The news came out of an annual meeting in which the company's CEO also announced that the company would close four truck and SUV plants because of low sales and high gasoline prices.

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Judge tosses Maine school official's lawsuit against Fox News for reporting joke story as fact

A federal judge has thrown out a school superintendent's lawsuit against Fox News, saying the cable news channel acted unprofessionally but without malice when anchors on "Fox and Friends" reported a parody story about ham as fact last year.

The case was an outgrowth of an April 2007 prank in which a middle school student tossed a slab of leftover Easter ham onto a table surrounded by Somali Muslim youngsters, knowing the Muslims would be offended. Muslims consider pork unclean.

A few days later, a parody story spoofing the ham controversy was posted online. The story attributed numerous made-up quotes to Superintendent Leon Levesque, including the need to teach kids that "ham is not a toy" and references to developing an "anti-ham response plan." The joke story, written by freelancer Nicholas Plagman, falsely listed the Associated Press as the source of the information.

The spoof was reported as fact on "Fox and Friends" on April 23. After Levesque contacted Fox, the network aired a retraction.

Among other things, the anchors had quoted Levesque as saying, "All our students should feel welcome in our schools, knowing that they are safe from attacks with ham, bacon, pork chops or any other delicious meat that comes from pigs."

The anchors also told viewers several times, "We are not making this up."

In his slander suit, Levesque who sought $75,000 in damages, said he was ridiculed and overwhelmed for days with phone calls and hate mail, including threatening calls to his home.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, who sits in Portland, concluded Tuesday that Fox News was unprofessional in reporting false and "outrageous quotations" without confirming their accuracy, but did not act out of malice.

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Saudi king opens conference on interfaith dialogue

AP Photo
AP Photo

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's king urged a gathering of Muslim scholars Wednesday to open religious dialogue with Christians and Jews. But politics intruded as a senior Iranian figure said the Islamic world should stand up to the U.S. and its "international arrogance."

King Abdullah spoke at the start of a three-day conference of Islamic scholars, clerics and other figures in the holy city of Mecca called to get Muslims on the same page before the kingdom launches a landmark initiative for talks with adherents of other monotheistic faiths.

The tone was one of reconciliation between Islam's two main branches, Sunni and Shiite. Abdullah, one of Sunni Islam's most prominent figures, entered the hall with Shiite Iranian politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who later sat at the king's left in a gesture of unity.

But while Rafsanjani spoke warmly of his host, he also highlighted the political divide between their nations by delivering pointed criticism of America, a Saudi ally. He accused the U.S. of greedily trying to control the region's oil and said Muslims should resist it.

Saudi Arabia has presented its dialogue proposal as a strictly religious initiative - an opportunity to ease tensions within Islam and between it and Christianity and Judaism.

Still, the initiative has political implications, coming from a Mideast heavyweight that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel. Jewish leaders have generally praised Abdullah's proposal, though it is not clear if Israeli Jewish leaders will be invited to take part.

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Strategy Was Based On Winning Delegates, Not Battlegrounds


By Jonathan Weisman, Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin

Almost from the beginning, Hillary Rodham Clinton's superior name recognition and her sway with state party organizations convinced Barack Obama's brain trust that a junior senator from Illinois was not going to be able to challenge the Clinton political machine head-on.

The insurgent strategy the group devised instead was to virtually cede the most important battlegrounds of the Democratic nomination fight to Clinton, using precision targeting to minimize her delegate hauls, while going all out to crush her in states where Democratic candidates rarely ventured.

The result may have lacked the glamour of a sweep, but last night, with the delegates he picked up in Montana and South Dakota and a flood of superdelegate endorsements, Obama sealed one of the biggest upsets in U.S. political history and became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to wrest his party's nomination from the candidate of the party establishment. The surprise was how well his strategy held up -- and how little resistance it met.

We kept waiting for the Clinton people to send people into the caucus states," marveled Jon Carson, one of Obama's top ground-game strategists.

"It's the big mystery of the campaign," said campaign manager David Plouffe, "because every delegate counts."

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Katrina Revisited

By David Kurtz

Still in Louisiana today, following his epic speech in Kenner last night, John McCain was asked by a local reporter why he had voted against creating a federal commission to investigate the Katrina disaster.

McCain's response? "I've supported every investigation and ways of finding out what caused the tragedy. . . ."

The problem is that's just not true. He voted against such a commission -- twice.

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Clinton's dilemma: Awash in both cash and debt

By Greg Gordon

WASHINGTON — The climactic end of the Democratic presidential race left loser Hillary Clinton in an odd position: Her campaign is both awash in cash and buried in debt.

The decisions she makes in how to handle that predicament could affect her future political prospects. Similarly, Barack Obama might seize an opportunity to make peace with his vanquished rival by helping her pay off some of her $21 million in loans.

Clinton's latest report to the Federal Election Commission showed an April 30 cash balance of nearly $29.7 million, but that was deceiving. FEC spokesman George Smaragdis said the figure included $6 million in primary-season cash and $23.7 million in donations designated for the fall general election campaign. None of the general election donations can be used to retire debts accrued during the primary season.

Clinton's biggest problem, of course, is the $21 million in IOUs, which include $11,425,000 she is known to have lent her campaign through the first week of May and possibly millions of dollars more in yet-to-be-disclosed loans during her last-ditch primary campaign efforts.

With Clinton refusing to concede defeat on Wednesday, there was little talk about financial help from Obama.

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Wise Up: Activism

By David Bruce

Not so long ago, gays were regarded as mentally ill; psychiatrists, including Charles Socarides, forced some gays to undergo aversion therapy in which they were shown photographs of nude men, then were electrically shocked or forced to vomit. Some gays were even given legally given electroshock treatments. Gay activists fought back, and in 1970 they infiltrated a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. A film shown at the meeting depicted gays being forced to vomit whenever they saw photographs of nude men. When the film was shown, the gay men infiltrating the meeting waited until photographs of nude men appeared on screen, then they cheered. A few years later, the APA decided that being homosexual was NOT a mental disease. (One wonders if Dr. Socarides  ever apologized to the gays he tortured.)

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Woodie Guthrie

Robot teddy bear car navigation system

Robot teddy bear car navigation system -- On June 3, engineers at iXs Research Corporation unveiled a robotic teddy bear designed to work as a talking car navigation system. The prototype robot stands 30 centimeters (1 ft) tall and has 6 joints in its arms and neck, which it uses to make gestures while providing spoken directions.

The robot bear is also equipped with functions to improve auto safety, such as an alcohol detection sensor embedded in its neck. If it smells booze, the robot confronts the driver, saying, "You haven't been drinking, have you?" Other sensors detect reckless driving, so if the driver suddenly accelerates or slams on the brakes, the robot says, "Watch out!"

As a bonus feature, the robot bear provides information about nearby landmarks when you stroke its head.

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Police to Seal Off D.C. Neighborhoods

By Sommer Mathis

2008_0604_police.jpgCan you say Police State? The Examiner has the scoop on a controversial new program announced today that would create so-called "Neighborhood Safety Zones" which would serve to partially seal off certain parts of the city. D.C. Police would set-up checkpoints in targeted areas, demand to see ID and refuse admittance to people who don't live there, work there or have a "legitimate reason" to be there. Wow. Just, wow.

Some of the words used to describe such a plan by those quoted in the Examiner story include "breathtaking" and "cockamamie," but that hardly begins to scratch the surface. Interim Attorney General Peter Nickles actually said that measures of this sort have "been used in other cities." Which cities are those, Mr. Nickles? Warsaw?

Today's proposal appears to be a desperate attempt by the city to tamp down recent violence that has ravaged the city, especially in Ward 5. The "Neighborhood Safety Zones" would last up to 10 days. It's a struggle to think of words to describe such a plan other than authoritarian or ghettoization.

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An Oral History of the Internet

How the Web Was Won

Fifty years ago, in response to the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. military set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency. It would become the cradle of connectivity, spawning the era of Google and YouTube, of Amazon and Facebook, of the Drudge Report and the Obama campaign. Each breakthrough—network protocols, hypertext, the World Wide Web, the browser—inspired another as narrow-tied engineers, long-haired hackers, and other visionaries built the foundations for a world-changing technology. Keenan Mayo and Peter Newcomb let the people who made it happen tell the story.

by Keenan Mayo and Peter Newcomb

This year marks the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary moment. In 1958 the United States government set up a special unit, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (arpa), to help jump-start new efforts in science and technology. This was the agency that would nurture the Internet. 

This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the launch of Mosaic, the first widely used browser, which brought the Internet into the hands of ordinary people.

Millions of words—multiplied and sent forth by the technology itself—have been written on the world-changing significance of the Internet, for good or ill, and the point hardly needs belaboring. Surprisingly, few books have been written that cover the full history of the Internet, from progenitors such as Vannevar Bush and J. C. R. Licklider up through the entrepreneurial age of our own times. Not many people recall that the first impetus for what became the technology of the Internet had its origins in Cold War theorizing about nuclear warfare.

To observe this year's twin anniversaries, Vanity Fair set out to do something that has never been done: to compile an oral history, speaking with scores of people involved in every stage of the Internet's development, from the 1950s onward. From more than 100 hours of interviews we have distilled and edited their words into a concise narrative of the past half-century—a history of the Internet in the words of the people who made it.

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When Worlds Collide: The American past meets modern museum doctrine.

by P.J. O'Rourke

The Ancient Americas
The Field Museum
Permanent Exhibit

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago has a new permanent exhibit of savagery and barbarism, "The Ancient Americas." The ancient Americans themselves are not portrayed as savage or barbarous. (How surprising. Knock me over with a feather.) The savages and barbarians are the museum's curators. They plunder history, ravage archaeology, do violence to intelligence, and lay waste to wisdom, faith, and common sense.

At the Field Museum, the bygone aboriginal inhabitants of our hemisphere are shown to be regular folks, the same as you and me, although usually more naked and always more noble. Ancient Americans have attained the honored, illustrious status of chumps and fall guys. Never mind that they were here for 12,000 or 13,000 years before the rest of us showed up with our pistols and pox, so most of their getting shafted was, perforce, a do-it-yourself thing.

And also never mind that "The Ancient Americas" exhibit tells you nothing that a fourth grader doesn't know. I am the parent of a fourth grader. I live in a house cluttered with twig and Play-Doh models of hogans, longhouses, and wickiups, hung with ill-made "dream-catchers" and strewn with poorly glued miniature birch bark canoes shedding birch bark on the rugs. My daughter's bedroom is heaped with the apparel, equipage, and chattel of Kaya, the Native American Girl doll. The fourth grade classroom's bookshelves overflow with culturally sensitive and ecologically aware retellings of Potawatomi, Paiute, and Kickapoo legends, colorfully illustrated by women who use birds or mammals for their last names.

When I was in the fourth grade, some 50 years ago, my grandmother would take me to the Field Museum. It was a solemn, quiet, awe-engendering place. All of creation's wonders were on display in orderly ranks. Dim corridors were lined with dioramas featuring important animals, shot, stuffed, and carefully labeled. Further corridors held wonders of a sterner kind: Sinister masks from Africa, demon deities of the heathen Raj, alarming Sung Dynasty figurines depicting the exquisite tortures of Chinese hell. Whatever steadiness of nerve I now possess I owe to steeling myself to walk past the display case containing an unwrapped Egyptian mummy.

The Field Museum was interesting even in its least interesting parts. The section devoted to Useful Varieties of Wood fascinated me in the exactitude of its tediousness. The world was full of things and--if I could summon the patience and concentration--those things could be organized, understood, and made to serve a purpose.

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The Top Ten Solutions to the World's Biggest Problems

The final dispatch from the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus Conference

Copenhagen, May 30—Where in the world can we do the most good? Supplying the micronutrients vitamin A and zinc to 80 percent of the 140 million children who lack them in developing countries is ranked as the highest priority by the expert panel at the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference. The cost is $60 million per year, yielding benefits in health and cognitive development of over $1 billion.

Eight leading economists, including five Nobelists, were asked to prioritize 30 different proposed solutions to ten of the world's biggest problems. The proposed solutions were developed by more than 50 specialist scholars over the past two years and were presented as reports to the panel over the past week. Since we live in a world of scarce resources, not all good projects can be funded. So the experts were constrained in their decision making by allocating a budget of an "extra" $75 billion among the solutions over four years.

Number 2 on the list of Copenhagen Consensus 2008 priorities is to widen free trade by means of the Doha Development Agenda. The benefits from trade are enormous. Success at Doha trade negotiations could boost global income by $3 trillion per year, of which $2.5 trillion would go to the developing countries. At the Copenhagen Consensus Center press conference, University of Chicago economist Nancy Stokey explained, "Trade reform is not just for the long run, it would make people in developing countries better off right now. There are large benefits in the short run and the long run benefits are enormous."

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How Britain's middle class was betrayed

Britain's professionals are worried. Their careers and living standards are under threat. Lawyers, doctors, bank managers and postmasters face an uncertain future as faceless corporations take over their work. In the second of three extracts from their new book, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson reveal how a wealthy elite rewrote all the rules - and conned the middle class.

David Parkins on Ronald McDonald's degree in Big Macs

Illustration: David Parkins

The summer of 2007 was a washout - literally so for people in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Yorkshire and beyond, who suffered severe flooding. Autumn weather alternated between further rainfall and plunging temperatures. The glorious summer days and fiery autumn colours of 2005 and 2006 seemed a fond memory.

Poor weather was matched by growing unease in the British middle class as 2007 turned into 2008. On every front, its living standards, status and career prospects were threatened, along with such objects of affection as the value of its homes and its children's education.

Life was still sweet for the New Olympians, the pampered rich who run the country's biggest companies and financial institutions. But Middle Britain, that union of the traditional professional middle class and the much wider group of "aspirant" households, was facing the stark possibility that 15 or more years of prosperity were drawing to a close. Worse, its members could have been forgiven a sneaking feeling that they were now the target of the sort of asset stripping that had been visited on the nation's factory workers, on those employed in "primary" industries such as farming, fishing and mining, and on small shopkeepers, thousands of whom had been driven out of business by supermarkets.

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Young Hillary Clinton


Prentice's Staff Scrubbing Copyright Controversy From Wikipedia Entry

by Michael Geist

While Industry Minister Jim Prentice has sought to project an air of unflappability around the outcry over the Canadian DMCA, it would appear that behind the scenes his staff is working overtime to eliminate any negative comments on Wikipedia.  Prentice's Wikipedia entry has been anonymously amended multiple times over the past week with regular attempts to remove any copyright criticism (as I post this there is no reference to copyright).  The IP address of most of the anonymous edits trace back to Industry Canada.  For example, on May 27th someone from Industry Canada twice deleted the following:

Prentice has been responsible for developing new Canadian Intellectual Property laws akin to the DMCA in the United States, partly due to pressure from US-based advocacy groups. While he had promised to "put consumers first", the draft legislation seems to cater strictly to industrial groups and Prentice has now suggested consumer interests may not be heard for years. Indeed, Prentice has refused to talk to a group of protesters who went to his office to express their concern.

Later in the day, someone from Industry Canada added to the copyright section of the Prentice entry with:

Recent developments have shown that no such draft legislation exists and that Minister Prentice has yet to publicly release any documents on the copyright issue. Minister Prentice is expected to draft a bill on copyright that will strike a balance between consumers and producers, while bringing Canada in line with current WIPO international standards.

On May 29th, the Prentice entry was changed with the heading "Controversies" switched to "Copyright." As the copyright issue heats up, there were further changes today.  An entry that previously stated:

The minister is planning on introducing a bill on June 5 2008 and is not communicating with the public or the press on the bill. The minister is being heavily influenced by foreign publishers and distributors.

was deleted by someone from Industry Canada, instead substituting a comment from a prior press scrum that the bill will not be introduced until Prentice is satisfied about the right balance. 

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Estrogen Applied To Human Penis Could Block Spread Of HIV, Study Suggests

In a world first, a University of Melbourne study has shown that topical oestrogen could help prevent HIV infection by blocking entry of the virus into the human penis.

The study to be published in PLoS ONE journal June 4 reveals that application of oestrogen to the human penis increased the thickness of the natural keratin layer on the skin, which could prevent HIV from infecting the male.

The epithelium of the human penis is richly supplied with oestrogen receptors suggesting it could respond to topical oestrogen.

Dr Andrew Pask from the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne analysed the tissue samples from 12 foreskins and made the discovery.

"This suggested that oestrogen could induce a thickening of the keratin layer of the foreskin epidermis in the same way as it acts in the vagina," said Dr Pask.

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Chronicling The Uprising: An Interview With David Sirota

By Intrepid Liberal Journal


The centrifugal force in American politics today is the establishment's failure to deliver prosperity and security. In 2006, Americans voted for a change of direction in Iraq and economic policies at home. Instead, President Bush's "surge" in Iraq was enabled by a feckless congress as fuel prices soared, the cost of healthcare kept spiraling out of control and corporate CEOs continued to enjoy the benefits of a twenty-first century Gilded Age. Senseless privatization, predatory crony capitalism, political corruption, incompetence and corporate greed have combined to put the American Dream out of reach for people who work hard and play by the rules.

Indeed, a self-gelding plutocracy machine of ineptitude currently governs America. We're not respected abroad and institutions designed to protect working people at home no longer function properly. Nobody on the Right or Left is satisfied with our immigration policy. Young people are not properly educated to compete in a global economy while too many senior citizens are forced to choose between paying for medication and buying food. Young men and women are dying to sustain two failed military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, our over extended military has been forced to resort to a back-door draft as America fails to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Is it any wonder that Americans across the political spectrum are yearning for change? In his provocative new book, Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington, (The Crown Publishing Group), David Sirota investigates whether populist outrage can be harnessed into a unified and enduring political movement. Sirota's spent a year traveling the country and his book chronicles uprisings across America's ideological and cultural spectrum.

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NJ Election Day: Voting Machine Status

by Ed Felten

Today is primary election day in New Jersey, for all races except U.S. President. (The presidential primary was Feb. 5.) Here's a roundup of the voting-machine-related issues.

First, Union County found that Sequoia voting machines had difficulty reporting results for a candidate named Carlos CedeƱo, reportedly because it couldn't handle the n-with-tilde character in his last name. According to the Star-Ledger, Sequoia says that election results will be correct but there will be some kind of omission on the result tape printed by the voting machine.

Second, the voting machines in my polling place are fitted with a clear-plastic shield over the operator panel, which only allows certain buttons on the panel to be pressed. Recall that some Sequoia machines reported discrepancies in the presidential primary on Feb. 5, and Sequoia said that these happened when poll workers accidentally pressed buttons on the operator panel that were supposed to be unused. This could only have been caused by a design problem in the machines, which probably was in the software. To my knowledge, Sequoia hasn't fixed the design problem (nor have they offered an explanation that is consistent with all of the evidence — but that's another story), so there was likely an ongoing risk of trouble in today's election. The plastic shield looks like a kludgy but probably workable temporary fix.

Third, voting machines were left unguarded all over Princeton, as usual. On Sunday and Monday evenings, I visited six polling places in Princeton and found unguarded voting machines in all of them — 18 machines in all. The machines were sitting in school cafeteria/gyms, entry hallways, and even in a loading dock area. In no case were there any locks or barriers stopping people from entering and walking right up to the machines. In no case did I see any other people. (This was in the evening, roughly between 8:00 and 9:00 PM). There were even handy signs posted on the street pointing the way to the polling place, showing which door to enter, and so on.

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The War on Photography

by Bruce Schneier

What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harrassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We've been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

Except that it's nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about -- the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 -- no photography.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it's a movie-plot threat.

A movie-plot threat is a specific threat, vivid in our minds like the plot of a movie. You remember them from the months after the 9/11 attacks: anthrax spread from crop dusters, a contaminated milk supply, terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs. Our imaginations run wild with detailed and specific threats, from the news, and from actual movies and television shows. These movie plots resonate in our minds and in the minds of others we talk to. And many of us get scared.

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Ron English Emancipates Barack Obama

Billboard usurping culture jammer, Ron English, created this dramatic image of an Abraham Lincoln - Barack Obama fusion to help promote the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Like the Obamartists before him, this print will be sold via Upper Playground and is part of an ongoing effort by the 008 Movement to get the country's first black man in the White House. In the wake of Hillary Clinton evoking the assassination of RFK to describe why she's not leaving the race, not to mention the punditry continually equating Obama to JFK, we'll have to admit to being a little concerned with the junior senator now being depicted as the 16th President of the United States. Granted, Lincoln and both the Kennedy brothers are all considered iconic American political heroes, but they also share something else in common: assassination.

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Hoxsey cures cancer