Monday, June 30, 2008



It Was Oil, All Along

Smirking Chimp
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn't a war about oil. That's cynical and simplistic, they said. It's about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be....the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, "...Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." He elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war."

Remember, also, that soon after the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told the press that war was our only strategic choice. "...We had virtually no economic options with Iraq," he explained, "because the country floats on a sea of oil."

Shades of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood. Half-mad, he exclaims, "There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet!" then adds, "No one can get at it except for me!"

No wonder American troops only guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior in Baghdad, even as looters pillaged museums of their priceless antiquities. They were making sure no one could get at the oil except... guess who?

Here's a recent headline in The New York Times: "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back." Read on: "Four western companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power."

There you have it. After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts - that's right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places.

Ice on Mars: Good for the Jews?

Marty Kaplan

by Marty Kaplan

I have always been only slightly embarrassed by my avidity for reports of UFOs, ETs, new planetary systems, semantic transmissions across the galaxies and every other kind of disruptive wow.

My embarrassment stems not from a reflexive belief in reports of bright lights flying low and fast over Stephenville, Texas or Chilliwack, British Columbia; I am as skeptical of tabloid headlines, and as cautious about the madness of crowds, as any other child of Voltaire or Mad Magazine.

No, what makes me sheepish about this stuff isn't my intellectual credulousness; it's my yearning for some indisputable event that will bust up our paradigms, some unruly discovery that will force us to remake from scratch our stories about who we are, where we come from and where we're headed.

Now that the Phoenix Lander has confirmed the existence of ice on Mars, and soil you can grow asparagus in, I'm rooting for them to find amino acids. I want it to be conceivable that Mars is a mere billion years behind Earth on the path to evolution, or maybe, sadly, a couple of billion years ahead of us on the road to extinction. And if they don't find organic molecules, I'm rooting for some strange silicon-based information-rich chains in that Martian soup.

I want what's found to make us say, Whoa! I want us to experience the kind of radical amazement that will require sending conventional cosmology to the repair shop. I want data that upend our accepted accounts of origins and evolution. I want scientific cover for the most boldly creative re-imaginings of the nature of life and of our own place in the great chain of being. I want to see the concepts of meaning and purpose up for grabs. I want new discoveries about stardust to make both ancient texts and current textbooks wholly inadequate for understanding the mysterium tremendum of the physical universe.

Unequal America

Harvard Magazine
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Causes and consequences of the wide—and growing—gap between rich and poor

by Elizabeth Gudrais

When Majid Ezzati thinks about declining life expectancy, he says, "I think of an epidemic like HIV, or I think of the collapse of a social system, like in the former Soviet Union." But such a decline is happening right now in some parts of the United States. Between 1983 and 1999, men's life expectancy decreased in more than 50 U.S. counties, according to a recent study by Ezzati, associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and colleagues. For women, the news was even worse: life expectancy decreased in more than 900 counties—more than a quarter of the total. This means 4 percent of American men and 19 percent of American women can expect their lives to be shorter than or, at best, the same length as those of people in their home counties two decades ago.

The United States no longer boasts anywhere near the world's longest life expectancy. It doesn't even make the top 40. In this and many other ways, the richest nation on earth is not the healthiest. Ezzati's finding is unsettling on its face, but scholars find further cause for concern in the pattern of health disparities. Poor health is not distributed evenly across the population, but concentrated among the disadvantaged.

Disparities in health tend to fall along income lines everywhere: the poor generally get sicker and die sooner than the rich. But in the United States, the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than in most other developed democracies, and it is getting wider. That is true both before and after taxes: the United States also does less than most other rich democracies to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.

Americans, on average, have a higher tolerance for income inequality than their European counterparts. American attitudes focus on equality of opportunity, while Europeans tend to see fairness in equal outcomes. Among Americans, differences of opinion about inequality can easily degenerate into partisan disputes over whether poor people deserve help and sympathy or should instead pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The study of inequality attempts to test inequality's effects on society, and it is delivering findings that command both sides' attention.

Ezzati's results are one example. There is also evidence that living in a society with wide disparities—in health, in wealth, in education—is worse for all the society's members, even the well off. Life-expectancy statistics hint at this. People at the top of the U.S. income spectrum "live a very long time," says Cabot professor of public policy and epidemiology Lisa Berkman, "but people at the top in some other countries live a lot longer."

Yoo won't answer whether Bush can bury someone alive.


The 'W.' Stands for 'War Criminal'

The House and a shot not yet heard 'round the world
by Nat Hentoff

In a June 6 letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey—largely ignored by a press immersed in the future of Hillary Clinton—56 Democrats in the House of Representatives asked for "an immediate investigation with the appointment of a special counsel to determine whether actions taken by the President, his Cabinet, and other Administration officials are in violation of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) . . . and other U.S. and international laws."

This isn't front-page news?

The letter began with a brief account of the notorious facts about Abu Ghraib ("sexual exploitation and torture") and Guantánamo ("an independent investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross documented several . . . acts of torture . . . including soaking a prisoner's head in alcohol and lighting it on fire"). Nor was "coercive interrogation" in Afghanistan omitted: "In October 2005, The New York Times reported that three detainees were killed during interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq by CIA agents or CIA contractors."

This is not a call for articles of impeachment. Bush will soon be gone, and the new president and Congress have far too much to do to get mired in that quicksand. These are grave criminal charges, and since international crimes are involved as well as the U.S. War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act, other nations whose laws include "universal jurisdiction" could prosecute.


Before Bush and After Bush

By Bob Kendall

B.B. before Bush and A.B. after Bush.

This represents what the U.S.A. was like before its economic free fall, and after the nation declined economically.

History will never forget Nero fiddling while Rome burned. History will never forget Bush and his silly sword dance before the Saudis while the U.S.A. burned with rage as crude oil prices soared to approximately $140 a barrel.

When George Bush took up residence in the White House January 20, 2001, crude oil was $28.66 a barrel. Before Bush (B.B.) U.S. citizens could use their cars to go to work as well as for pleasure trips.

That is all history now!

With the cost being so high to fill up the gas tank, residents of major cities are now using public transportation. With overcrowded trains and buses, it is often standing room only

The airline industry is losing billions of dollars as airlines are laying off thousands of employees with fares jumping 25 percent.

While all this hardship was imposed on U.S. citizens, where was George Bush?

Bush revved up Air Force One and flew off to Europe for a whirlwind farewell tour to the major city capitals. Bush's speeding motorcade, with the usual contingent of bodyguards and diplomatic spokespersons, didn't have to worry about the cost of gas - not when U.S. taxpayers were paying for the gas.

Big car manufacturers like General Motors and Ford never considered gas conservation when they built too many gas guzzling SUV's and trucks. They see them standing unsold on lots now as gas prices cripple their sales.

It is glaringly apparent that McCain has enough problems with his faltering campaign without dredging up George Bush. So for McCain, it was no doubt a plus that Bush went whizzing about Europe instead of tagging along on his campaign trail.

As for foreign affairs, Bush has also been an unmitigated disaster. In his famous State of the Union Message he declared that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, threatening the citizens of the U.S.A. He added that the U.S. had proof that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons.

The congressional robots jumped to their feet, cheering George Bush on to the Iraq War. The Congress had been lied to along with the rest of us. Meanwhile the rest of the world watched!

Was it oil greed or a real threat? It didn't take long to find out that it was all a hoax. No weapons of mass destruction were found. No nuclear development was discovered. But did these revelations invest Bush or Congress with an urge to apologize for such a hideous mistake?

No way!

The Tunguska Event--100 Years Later

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Science@NASA Web Site

Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips

June 30, 2008: The year is 1908, and it's just after seven in the morning. A man is sitting on the front porch of a trading post at Vanavara in Siberia. Little does he know, in a few moments, he will be hurled from his chair and the heat will be so intense he will feel as though his shirt is on fire.

That's how the Tunguska event felt 40 miles from ground zero.

Today, June 30, 2008, is the 100th anniversary of that ferocious impact near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in remote Siberia--and after 100 years, scientists are still talking about it.

"If you want to start a conversation with anyone in the asteroid business all you have to say is Tunguska," says Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It is the only entry of a large meteoroid we have in the modern era with first-hand accounts."

see caption

Above: Trees felled by the Tunguska explosion. Credit: the Leonid Kulik Expedition. [more]

While the impact occurred in '08, the first scientific expedition to the area would have to wait for 19 years. In 1921, Leonid Kulik, the chief curator for the meteorite collection of the St. Petersburg museum led an expedition to Tunguska. But the harsh conditions of the Siberian outback thwarted his team's attempt to reach the area of the blast. In 1927, a new expedition, again lead by Kulik, reached its goal.

"At first, the locals were reluctant to tell Kulik about the event," said Yeomans. "They believed the blast was a visitation by the god Ogdy, who had cursed the area by smashing trees and killing animals."

While testimonials may have at first been difficult to obtain, there was plenty of evidence lying around. Eight hundred square miles of remote forest had been ripped asunder. Eighty million trees were on their sides, lying in a radial pattern.

Can you guess the country?

We set a modern-day record for most replies.
I didn't count, but I'll guess less than 200 people wrote in and 
2/3 of them got the right answer - Dubai, United Arab Emerites.

Think how rich these oil robber barons were 
before Bush tripled their daily income?

BTW, that fog's not natural.
The king's a big Tony Bennet fan 
so he built giant fog machines so he 
can pretend he's in San Francisco.

- -


Kissing ass

 Click Here!

IT vs. initiative: The Internet age comes to the battlefield

On a late summer night of 2004 in al Anbar province, Iraq, just south of Abu Ghraib, an observation post (OP) of four Marines was shot at briefly from the shadows. The Marines made out two silhouettes in the distance, returned fire, and pursued them into the darkness. One of the Marines said to the others as they searched the area, "I think I got one!" But no sign of them was found. Moments later, in a small tent several miles away, I read their report on my computer delivered by email.

Political Map of Iraq from US Army websiteFifteen minutes after that, another report came in over the radio from a different Marine foot patrol in the vicinity. They'd stopped a vehicle and found two men inside; one of them had a gunshot wound to the shoulder. The driver told the Marine patrol leader that his friend had been caught in the crossfire of a civil dispute run amok. He was rushing him to the hospital.

It was a likely enough scenario -- we routinely saw the results of these sorts of incidents -- but the patrol leader quickly called me to be sure. "This guy is bleeding pretty bad," he said. "You want me to let them go? Or do you want to send us a Medevac?" He didn't know about the OP engagement that had taken place less than a mile away.

"Tell him to hold on to them," I said to my radio operator. "I'll have a helicopter there in five minutes." As I spoke, I began generating my own report on my laptop to send up to headquarters.

The entire chain of command knew what was happening even before it was over.

This is the nature of the modern battlefield.

Flooded London photo exhibit


Squint/Opera's photography exhibit "depicts imaginary scenes in London in 2090, when rising sea levels have inundated the city." They made it look like fun! Flooded London

Magazine editor forced to resign for publishing poem

by Nem Davies

New Delhi
- An editor from a monthly magazine Cherry' was forced to resign from his work for publishing a poem named 'De Pa Yin Ga', written about the historical 'Depayin' town, in June issue.

The notorious Censorship Board under the Ministry of Information summoned the editor and questioned him on June 24 for publishing the poem. He was later ordered to resign from his post.

The poem, written by poet Kyi Maung Than, depicts about the historical events connected to 'Depayin' town.

"The Censor Board asked him who would take responsibility for the poem. Htay Aung replied that he has the responsibility. Then he had to resign under pressure," an official from the magazine told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

The poem speaks of how historically 'Depayin' town was famous for producing great heroes such as King Ahlaung Sithu and great warrior Mahabandula and many others.

The poet, however, said it is sad that the town has become a place of birth for dacoits, and thugs. In the conclusion of the poem, the poet said he was haunted by the past when he looked back on 'Depayin' town while traveling along the Ye Oo-Monywa highway.

While it is still unknown what has enraged the Burmese censorship board, it is believed that the poem made officials unhappy for picking 'Depayin' town, which is notoriously known in the recent years, for becoming a place where the Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was attacked brutally.

Tall Tales from the Trade

A bookseller specialist buys a large academic collection from an old professor--mostly sexology, sexual politics, censorship and moral studies. He gets them for a reasonable sum, but part of the deal is that he takes 10,000 porno paperbacks stored in the outhouse. Reluctantly he hauls them all out and takes the paperbacks to the recycling where they are pulped. Pulp to pulp.

Painstakingly he lists the scholarly works and offers them to a University library that he has ties with. They reply that, sadly, they have most of these books and what they really need is actual porn paperback fiction, 'we have all the books on censorship' the librarian says 'what we need is the material that was being censored - we need thousands of them, but I'm afraid we can only pay $20 each.'

I was reminded of this one when reading about David Hockney and his choice of book on Desert Island Discs. It was a gay pulp porno paperback 'Route 69' by Floyd Carter which he was allowed to take to his island along with the Bible and complete works of Shakespeare. There are no copies of Floyd's masterpiece on any web mall and the only works showing by him are Battle of the Bulges , Big Joe, Camp Butch and Forbidden Fruit --mostly on Amazon where they report no copies. These books tend to be rare.

A similar tale is set in 1965 in a provincial bookshop where trade is slow. The dealer has a sale of the books upstairs, lesser books but useful stock--even after severe reductions there are 10,000 books left. Rather than haul them down to the dump he decides to give the whole lot to the young girl who comes in on afternoons when he is out doing house calls, fishing, watching cricket etc., She graciously accepts them and says she will arrange to have them out as soon as possible. He sets off to a local auction and on his return is greatly surprised to find all the books have gone. The girl explains that a guy came in from a movie company needing 10000 books - for the book burning scenes in Fahrenheit 451 that they were filming nearby. She only charged £1 per book.

Wage Against the Machine - If Costco's worker generosity is so great, why doesn't Wal-Mart imitate it?

Costco. Click image to expand

Nearly everyone who's looked at Wal-Mart's practices as an employer—its union busting, sex discrimination, low wages, and minimal benefits—has concluded that it's America's retail bad guy. By contrast, many who've examined the practices of Wal-Mart's competitor Costco—including New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in his recent book The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker—conclude that it's the good guy. Costco CEO and founder Jim Sinegal repeatedly insists to Greenhouse that treating employees well is "good business."

That makes a pleasing sound bite, and assume for a moment that Sinegal's assertion is true. Why, then, wouldn't Wal-Mart do everything it could to make itself more like Costco? Now assume that Sinegal's assertion is false. Why, then, does Costco treat employees better if that's against the company's financial interests?

Goodbye, XP. Hello, Midori

Posted by Mary Jo Foley 

June 30 is the day that Microsoft begins phasing out Windows XP by no longer providing copies of the operating system to PC makers and retailers for preloading on new machines. It's also a good day (thanks to a recent New York Times opinion piece) to start looking ahead to what comes next — after Windows.

That answer could be Softie Eric Rudder's mysterious "Midori" project.

First, the back story: As San Jose State Professor Randall Stross notes in his Times article, "Windows Could Use a Rush of Fresh Air," Windows has become big and unwieldy. That's why Microsoft has been working for the past several years on reducing dependencies within Windows. And that's what MinWin, the slimmed-down Windows core that Microsoft's Core team has built (which supposedly won't be at the heart of Windows 7) is all about.

Microsoft also has been investigating for the past several years what a non-Windows-based operating system might look like. That project, which recently hit the 1.0 milestone, is code-named "Singularity."

Preview of World's First Rotating Skyscraper

Architecture of Change - Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment

Architecture of Change - Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment
Designed with the utmost sustainability in mind, the New Monte Rosa-Hut by Studio Monte Rosa/ETH Zuerich is located in the middle of a nature reservation next to a glacier in the Swiss Alps. Energy-wise it's 90% self-contained and self-sufficient, featuring a metallic surface consisting of photovoltaic panels and a spiral-shaped glass band that follows the sun, conducting passive energy inside. From the Architecture of Change book by Gestalten publishers. © Gestalten 2008

The meticulous Architecture of Change - Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment by Berlin-based Kristin and Lukas Feireiss is a compilation that looks at architecture from so many perspectives. Featuring state-of-the-art examples of sustainability in the First World and human projects in the Third next to funky experimental concepts and landscape art, packaged with several essays and interviews for a theoretical base. Is this the way we should deal with architecture in the future? PingMag had a theory chinwag with Lukas.

Written by Verena

Buildings are the greatest sources of urban pollution, so why not develop a surface that metabolises air, sun and water: INVERSAbrane by KOL / MAC, LCC architects stands for 'Invertible Building Membrane' and these are different cells with various air cleaning capabilities. From Architecture of Change. © Gestalten 2008

Devo sues McDonalds


Devo is suing McDonald's over New Wave Nigel, a toy that the fast food restaurant gives away with some Happy Meals. New Wave Nigel is part of an American Idol-related line of freebies based on various genres of music. From AAP:
 Images 730709 "We are in the midst of suing them," (Devo's Jerry) Casale told AAP.

"This New Wave Nigel doll that they've created is just a complete Devo rip-off and the red hat is exactly the red hat that I designed, and it's copyrighted and trademarked.

"They didn't ask us anything. Plus, we don't like McDonald's, and we don't like American Idol, so we're doubly offended."
Devo sues McDonald's (, thanks Tara McGinley!)