Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's A Blue Moon New Year's Eve Party!

Written by Tammy Plotner


Have you enjoyed our lunar studies together this year? We hope you've taken the time to follow the phases and to appreciate what you see. Although it would be wonderful to end our this year's time together viewing the distant cosmos, something very cool is about to happen…

In 1982, a second full Moon of the month was visible. Known as a ''Blue Moon,'' the name does not refer to the Moon's color but reflects the rarity of the event and gives rise to the expression, ''once in a blue moon.'' The Blue Moon of 1982 was even more special because a total lunar eclipse also occurred (for the United States) then. The image you see below has a strange significance as well. Not only is it the absolute finest photo of the full Moon I have ever seen, but it was recorded at a year's end, too… on December 22, 1999 by incomparable astrophotographer Rob Gendler. That particular December's Moon was special for another reason, as the full phase occurred on the day of the winter solstice, within hours of lunar perigee and just one month away from a lunar eclipse.

Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus' bones

By Jonathan Head

Bronze statue of Saint Nicholas outside the Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas in Bari, Italy
St Nicholas was born in modern-day Turkey 17 centuries ago

A Turkish archaeologist has called on his government to demand that Italy return the bones of St Nicholas to their original resting place.

The 3rd Century saint - on whom Santa Claus was modelled - was buried in the modern-day town of Demre in Turkey.

But in the Middle Ages his bones were taken by Italian sailors and re-interred in the port of Bari.

The Turkish government said it was considering making a request to Rome for the return of the saint's remains.

While Christmas is by and large not celebrated in Muslim Turkey, the Christmas figure of Santa Claus certainly is, in the Mediterranean town of his birth.

Wis. man's bank quip earns him Champion Liar title


MILWAUKEE – A jab at the woes of the nation's banks has been named the top tall tale of 2009.

The Burlington Liars Club bestowed its highest award Wednesday for this line: "I just realized how bad the economy really is. I recently bought a new toaster oven and as a complimentary gift, I was given a bank."

The quip earned Larry Legro of Sun Prairie, Wis., the dubious — but serious — distinction of being the year's World Champion Liar.

"I was ecstatic," said Legro, 58, a state health inspector. "I told people all year I was planning to win this contest."

Legro told The Associated Press he had been submitting entries for four to five years, even if his wife didn't share his enthusiasm.

"When I told her I won I could see her roll eyes like, 'Why do you want to do this?'" he said. "Because it's there. Somebody's got to do it."

Get Hypnotized By Facebook

 by Christina Warren the sheer amount of time that individuals spend on Facebook and Twitter, it's easy to make jokes about the hypnotic nature of social networking. However, real-life hypnotherapist Chris Hughes plans on bringing together hypnotism and the Internet in a very real way.

On January 4, 2010, at 20:30 GMT (that's 3:30 p.m. EST and 12:30 p.m. PST), Hughes will be attempting to set the world record for mass online hypnosis via his website Users can sign up for the audio event via their Facebook (Facebook) or Twitter (Twitter) accounts.

At the time of this post, more than 2,260 users have signed up to take part in Monday's event. All that's required is a computer with an Internet connection, speakers or headphones, a comfy chair and a quiet interruption-free location.

Thomas Jefferson Decided The Hemp Brake Was Too Important To Patent


from the locking-stuff-up-isn't-a-very-good-thing dept

by Mike Masnick

We've had plenty of discussions about Thomas Jefferson's views on the patent system. He is, clearly, the father of the patent system in the US. While he was incredibly skeptical of the idea of granting any monopolies originally, he did come around to accept patents in very limited circumstances, and when he oversaw the patent system, he was careful to make sure that the downsides of such monopolies were limited. Separately, for many years, I've heard the story of how Ben Franklin purposely decided not to patent his stove invention, stating:

"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."
However, I had not heard of a similar story involving Thomas Jefferson refusing to patent certain inventions he came up with as well. Reader jprlk points us to a recent Straight Dope column, which is mostly about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson's exposure to marijuana, but there is one interesting part about how Jefferson refused to patent his "hemp brake" patent, because he found the invention to be "too important":
Jefferson invented a better "hemp brake" to separate the fibers from the stalks, something he thought was so important agriculturally that he refused to patent it.
Combined with the Franklin quote, this is quite telling. In both cases, they realized that the invention could be a lot more useful if it were not limited.

Cheney in Winter


Washington - It's pathetic to break a New Year's resolution before we even get to New Year's Day, but here I go. I had promised myself that I would do a better job of ignoring Dick Cheney's corrosive and nonsensical outbursts -- that I would treat them, more or less, like the pearls of wisdom one hears from homeless people sitting in bus shelters.

But he is a former vice president, which gives him a big stage for his histrionic Rottweiler-in-Winter act. It is never a good idea to let widely disseminated lies and distortions go unchallenged. And the shrill screed that Cheney unloosed Wednesday is so full of outright mendacity that, well, my resolution will have to wait.

In a statement he gave to Politico, Cheney seemed to be trying to provide talking points for opponents of the Obama administration who -- incredibly -- would exploit the Christmas Day terrorist attack for political gain. Cheney's broadside opens with a big lie, which he then repeats throughout. It is as if he believes that saying something over and over again, in a loud enough voice, magically makes it so.

"As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war," Cheney begins.

Flat-out untrue.



Report Says ACORN Didn't Commit Voter Fraud or Misuse Federal Funding


photoThe Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) did not commit voter fraud, and it didn't misuse federal funding in the last five years, according to a recently released report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a nonpartisan investigational arm of Congress.

Among its findings, CRS also reported that recently enacted federal legislation to prohibit funding to ACORN raises significant constitutional concerns. The report said courts "may have a sufficient basis" to conclude that the legislation "violates the prohibition against bills of attainder." Also, concerning recent "sting" operations related to ACORN, although state laws vary, two states, Maryland and California, "appear to ban private recording of face to face conversations absent the consent of all the participants," the report said.

The CRS report was requested by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank in September.

"There were no instances of individuals who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees and who were reported attempting to vote at the polls," the CRS report states.

This report came on the heels of another report that also cleared ACORN of wrongdoing. That outside report indicated ACORN doesn't show a pattern of intentional and illegal behavior in undercover videos that conservatives shot of ACORN staffers. That's according to an independent, two-month review of ACORN released in early December by Scott Harshbarger, senior counsel at Proskauer Rose and former Massachusetts attorney general. Proskauer Rose is a law firm that led the independent review of ACORN at the behest of its senior officials. This review shows the independent analysis requested by ACORN on September 21 in the wake of the video controversies, significant negative news coverage and lost support among some funders, allies and supporters.

Vote On TSA Nominee Caught Up In Union Dispute


by Brian Naylor

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South CarolinaThe attempted detonation of an explosive device aboard Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day has shifted national attention to the airport screeners who work for the Transportation Security Administration. For nearly a year, the TSA has been without a permanent administrator.

President Obama has named Los Angeles Airport Security Assistant Chief Erroll Southers to the post. But the Senate has yet to vote on the nomination, because one Republican senator wants a guarantee that the administration won't allow collective bargaining for airport screeners.

That revives a bitter controversy from the days of the Homeland Security Department's creation in 2002.

Echoes Of 2002

GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina says it would be wrong if union bosses were to "dictate" security at the nation's airports. In a statement released by his office, DeMint says that the attempted terrorist attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA.

Earlier this month, DeMint asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano how unionization and collective bargaining could enhance airport security.

"Well, senator, the answer is collective bargaining and security are not mutually exclusive concepts, and these types of agreements are negotiated all the time all over the United States," Napolitano said.

Giving airport screeners the right to bargain collectively was a nonstarter for the Bush administration back in 2002, when it drew up legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security and put airport screeners under its jurisdiction.

While employees were able to join a union, they were blocked from bargaining for a contract. When Democrats tried to insert a right to collective bargaining in the bill, they were attacked for opposing homeland security. The accusation was that such bargaining would mean strikes and would leave the country open to terrorist attacks.

In the 2002 elections, Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA), who voted against homeland security measures, saw himself depicted in a TV ad alongside pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

That fall, Cleland lost to Saxby Chambliss, his Republican opponent, who has held that Georgia Senate seat ever since.

But have times changed?

"I think that we can accomplish collective bargaining, and also do that in such a fashion that we never at one moment sacrifice any wit of security," says Napolitano.

Art reproduction of the day

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clueless in Washington

Mashable’s Social Media Guide for Journalists

by Brenna Ehrlich

Navigating the journalistic seas this past year has been a particularly challenging/exciting task. As many a publication foundered in the economic benthos, others rode the wave of new technology into previously uncharted waters.

Mashable has been there through it all, stepping in to provide journalists with touchstones and compass directions to help them do everything from tell more compelling tales through alternative storytelling to make the most of their Twitter accounts.

It's not enough today to have a good rolodex of sources (seriously, who even has a rolodex nowadays?) and a solid recorder, journalists need to be able to make use of every tool in their arsenal in order to stay afloat in today's almost real-time media landscape.

It's time to add another factor to the boot leather equation. Here's how:

Add Social Media Tools to Your Belt

From making use of social media tools to create and store content (ala YouTube and other video blogs) to tracking down sources (via Facebook) to publicizing stories and interacting with readers (by logging into Twitter), social media tools have opened up a whole new realm to today's journalists. Here are some great resources that can teach you everything from how to use YouTube to conduct man-on-the-street interviews to how to keep up with other journos on Twitter.

The Journalist's Guide to YouTube

The Journalist's Guide to Facebook

The Journalist's Guide to User Generated Video

The Journalist's Guide to Twitter

The Complete Guide to Video Blogging

Turn Your News Website Into a Community

Reading the news these days is becoming less and less about passive consumption and more about interacting with and commenting on what's going on in your world. Therefore, websites have to be less like art museums (hands-off) and more like those children's museums of bygone days (hands-on). Check out these great guides to making your publication's website more interactive — from tapping into local news to riding the Google Wave.

10 Rules for Increasing Community Engagement

7 Ways to Make News Sites More Social

How Google Wave is Changing the News

How Social Media is Taking the News Local

- more -

Kucinich to Investigate Fannie/Freddie Bailout
If the White House thought they could slip the bailout of Fannie and Freddie through by announcing it in a Christmas Eve news dump, think again.

Dennis Kucinich just released this statement:

kucinichAs Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I'm announcing that the Subcommittee will launch an investigation into the Treasury Department's recent decision to lift the current $400-billion cap on combined federal assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, opening the way for additional, unlimited funds through the end of 2012. This investigation will include the role played by Fannie Mae chief executive Michael J. Williams and Freddie Mac chief executive Charles E. Haldeman in the decision, if any, and will seek to ensure that the additional assistance is used for homeowners and not Wall Street.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding this move by the Treasury. Why suddenly remove the cap? Indications are that Freddie and Fannie, even as millions of Americans lose their homes, have used just $111 billion of the $400 billion previously available to them. Is lifting the cap on assistance a back-door TARP?

Additionally, I want to determine whether Fannie and Freddie have a cohesive plan to buy up the under-performing mortgages that remain on the books of the big banks, at appropriate prices, and undertake a massive reworking of the terms of the mortgages so as to stem the foreclosure crisis that continues to plague our country.This new authority must be used responsibly and for the benefit of American families. This cannot be used simply to purchase toxic assets at inflated prices, thus transferring the losses to the U. S. taxpayers and acting as a back-door TARP.

On Christmas Eve, they also announced $4-$6 million compensation packages for their top executives.  But they'll start foreclosing on homeowners again in January.

Fannie and Freddie have been corrupt cesspools for years, a place where presidents of both parties parked friends like Dennis DeConcini and Rahm Emanuel, giving them lucrative spots on the board of directors as political payoff.

The Harvard Bookstore's new print on demand machine

Can't our government get anything right?

Whichever party's in charge fumbles the basics -- security, health, infrastructure. Why are we paying these people?

I have a confession to make. I have been suffering from painful flashbacks lately. Memories of the 1970s force themselves, unbidden, into my mind. Memories of the high school assembly where we students were handed WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons.

Grownups who were unable or unwilling to take the policy measures necessary to reduce inflation told us children that price inflation was our personal responsibility, just as similar cowards and charlatans today tell us that addressing global warming is a moral responsibility of ordinary people, not a technological issue to be resolved by governments and utilities. I remember the U.S. retreat under fire from Indochina under President Gerald Ford and the debacle of the Desert One mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran under President Jimmy Carter.

And then there is the most painful memory of all: the killer rabbit. On April 20, 1979, a White House photographer captured an image of the beleaguered President Carter using his paddle to fend off a rabbit as it swam toward his fishing boat in Georgia. The photo was suppressed until the Reagan years, and Carter's press secretary explained that the creature was a ferocious "swamp rabbit." But headlines like "President Attacked by Rabbit" gave a comic spin to the widely shared feeling that the U.S. government had become feeble and ridiculous.

I've got those killer-rabbit blues again. And I'm not the only one.

Some Democratic partisans have claimed that the pathetic, lobby-written healthcare bill is the greatest expansion of social insurance in the U.S. since Medicare. Possibly true, but so what? Passing the greatest social reform since the days of LBJ is easy, like being the greatest novelist in Lichtenstein or the greatest tap dancer in Mongolia. There isn't much competition. Since the 1960s our increasingly paralyzed Congress seems to have become incapable of enacting any reform that isn't trivial, or botched, like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, or corrupted beyond recognition, like the healthcare bill.

Thirty years since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

by Alex Lantier

In the press coverage of President Barack Obama's recent decision to deploy more US troops to Afghanistan, a historical milestone has gone curiously unmentioned—the 30th anniversary of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, which began on December 27, 1979.

An examination of the circumstances of this event undermines Obama's claims that American policy in Afghanistan is motivated by a "war on terror," revealing instead the imperialist aims behind US policy.

At the time, President Jimmy Carter seized on the Soviet intervention—which aimed to suppress mujahadeen rebels fighting the Soviet-backed regime of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA)—to undo a decade of détente and escalate tensions with the USSR. This critical decision unleashed a conflict that would ultimately devastate Afghan society.

It emerged only years later that the Soviet invasion was itself a response to a deliberate US attempt to set up a new military front against the USSR in Afghanistan. Even before the Soviet invasion, Washington was secretly assisting the mujahadeen, with the aim of provoking a Soviet intervention and trapping the USSR in a bloody quagmire. The US foreign policy establishment's ultimate goal in pursuing this policy was to destroy the USSR and promote an expansion of US power in strategically located, oil-rich Central Asia...

Washington's policy towards the Soviet-Afghan war was marked by unsurpassed cynicism. It unleashed a barrage of sanctimonious protests against an invasion it had helped promote, including organizing a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. As it sent billions of dollars in weaponry to the mujahadeen, it publicly denied that it was giving the rebels any assistance.

Though Washington proclaimed that its Afghan proxies were "freedom fighters," the mujahadeen and their international backers were social reactionaries. With the assistance of right-wing Muslim regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US promoted Islamic fundamentalist warlords within the resistance. Washington turned a blind eye as they exterminated competing mujahadeen factions and funded themselves through large-scale opium sales.

When the mujahadeen proved incapable of organizing attacks on Kabul and strategic roadways, the CIA armed and trained international Muslim recruits to launch terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. The young Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden oversaw these global recruitment networks, which later formed the core of Al Qaeda.

John Ortved's The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History

Under The Radar
By now The Simpsons is among the most predictable institutions in America. Not in the sense that the show is boring or unsurprising—though many will argue that it is—but predictable in that, after two decades, it's still on the air every with new episodes Sunday night at eight o'clock. Like baseball or The Ramones, The Simpsons has come to be synonymous with America.

That wasn't always the case, obviously, and when the series began it's success was anything but assured. That hectic period is at the heart of The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History, a 300-plus page oral history that began two years ago as a Vanity Fair piece. Drawing from extensive interviews with cast members, current and former writers (including Conan O'Brien, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, and others) and loveable Aussie billionaire Rupert Murdoch, the book was also done without the participation of principals such as Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon, forcing Ortved to rely on outside sources (primarily quotes from print and broadcast interviews) and the word of the dozens of others interviewed for the project.

Facebook yanks high-profile cannabis pages

Picked up the following off, a most cool Bay Area-based site if you haven't seen it before. We'll be watching for updates on the Facebook situation:

CANNABIS CULTURE – For reasons unknown, Cannabis Culture Magazine's Facebook page has been disabled by the popular social networking site.

The Cannabis Culture Facebook page, which had over 25,000 fans, (and was available at this link) disappeared on December 23, 2009. Shortly afterward, administrators of the page received an email notification:


You created a Page that has violated our Terms of Use. A Facebook Page is a distinct presence used solely for business or promotional purposes. Among other things, Pages that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down Pages that attack an individual or group, or that are set up by an unauthorized individual. If your Page was removed for any of the above reasons, it will not be reinstated. Continued misuse of Facebook's features could result in the permanent loss of your account.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit the Terms applicable to Facebook Pages at

The Facebook Team

CC editors have contacted Facebook and we hope to have the page reinstated soon. We are still trying to figure out how our page violated their terms; hopefully they do not consider discussion of cannabis "obscene".

Grow-your-own to replace false teeth

The British institution of dentures sitting in a glass of water beside the bed could be rendered obsolete by scientists who are confident that people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones.

Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be.

The procedure needs only a local anaesthetic and the new tooth should be fully formed within a few months of the cells being implanted.

Paul Sharpe, a specialist in the field of regenerative dentistry at the Dental Institute of King's College, London, says the new procedure has distinct advantages over false teeth that require a metal post to be driven into the jaw before being capped with a porcelain or plastic tooth.

"The surgery today can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that is a major problem for some people," Professor Sharpe said.

The method could be used on far more patients because the ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw.

Last hour of Flight!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Panic in the Decade Zero

Bah humbug! The classics we secretly loathe

In the spirit of Christmas grumpiness, arts personalities reveal the heritage classics they secretly can't stand

undefinedAndrew Marr, broadcaster, on jazz

Every properly cultured person admires jazz, not necessarily in its rumbustious, earthy form, but certainly in its great moderns. The Duke himself, but above all Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and their zillion followers. You have to, don't you, really? Well, sorry. I like early classical music and late classical music. I like opera, even Wagner these days. I like rock, pop, folk and (very much) the blues.

And then there's jazz. I don't mean the great singers, but the infuriatingly snazzy, oopla-poopla, jingly, endlessly self-referential up and down and roundabout stuff that takes itself sooo seriously and requires you to wear a martyred frown and a horrible striped jacket — and quite possibly unfortunate facial hair — to appreciate it.

What's it really about except showing off? Too many notes, as the Austrian emperor is supposed to have complained about Mozart. It doesn't make me excited, sad, wobbly, calm or indeed anything much. Jazz just goes up-down, back-forward, wurble, wurble — pointless. Friends have tried to open my ears. They're big enough, yes, but they aren't big enough for that stuff.

Stephen Hough, pianist, on Bach I'm quite embarrassed about this, but I don't like Bach. I admire him enormously, of course — who couldn't? Every bar he wrote is extraordinary. I hear people talking about the "universality" of it, and the "deep spirituality of it" and the expression and the romanticism, but it just doesn't reach through to me. I feel like a priest who's lost his faith. I really am meant to believe this, but somehow I don't.Occasionally I put the B Minor Mass on in the car thinking: "This is the greatest Mass ever written, get on with it," but within a couple of minutes my mind starts to wander.

I played Bach when I was learning, of course, but I always found the Romantic pieces more fun. That's something I thought I would grow out of, like someone who at first prefers a very sweet cream sherry rather than a drier one, but as we get older those things often change. Maybe I'm still a kid, but as yet I've not got to that stage. There's clearly some important screw missing in my musical mechanism.

Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter, on Romeo and Juliet

I think Romeo and Juliet is a terrible play and should be ditched in favour of West Side Story whenever possible. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is, mainly, that it isn't a tragedy at all. It's just a postal mishap. Relevant to our times, perhaps, but hardly high drama. Basically, they fall in love (and we'll leave aside the paedophilic connotations of sex with a 13-year-old girl), run away and then come a cropper when a (fairly key) message fails to reach Romeo and it's suicide all round. Tragedy has to be about fatal flaws, about personal growth, about emotional annihilation — not a dicky delivery service and a hot-headed youth. These lovers had their wires crossed not their stars.

It's like hearing that someone died from tripping over a biscuit. It's odd and it's quite sad but more than anything it's just bloody ridiculous.

Nicky Haslam, interior designer, on Monty Python

It leaves me absolutely cold. Cleese and those other guys are completely up their own arses. It is humour made for dolts. I never made it through a complete episode of Flying Circus because it was so bad. I hate sacrilege too — so Life of Brian was an unfunny idea, too easy to sustain a whole film. It was the same with the Goons and Charlie Chaplin, who I could never stand — that kind of dopey, physically silly, male, oh-look-at-us humour. I prefer girls in backless dresses saying witty things in 1940s films, the kinds of movies that have a dry, crisp wit to them, and screwball comedies too. Python and its like rely on easy laughs — the parrot sketch is just ghastly — I prefer the kind of humour that creeps up on you, the kind that builds up so that, out of nowhere, you find yourself in hysterics. Humour should be subtle.

Jude Kelly, theatre director, on Rubens

I don't like Rubens. He's undoubtedly masterful technically. But I think there is a sentimentality to him and a sort of voluptuousness with regards to flesh — a combination of coyness and sexuality that I find very cloying and slightly disturbing. It's not that they are large; it's something about the way Rubens paints the texture of the flesh that is so clammy. I have always had the feeling that it's on the verge of titillation.

His cherubs seem far too knowing and they always seem to me to have a slightly sexual, devilish air. They always look as though they have eaten enormous amounts of chocolate. They seem to be the antithesis of spirituality, the way they prop themselves up with their head on their hands, sort of languorous. Where's their work ethic, that's what I want to know.

Edward Watson, principal dancer, Royal Ballet on The Nutcracker

I first danced in The Nutcracker when I was 17 and a pupil at the Royal Ballet Upper School. I joined the Royal Ballet the following year and then seemed to be in it almost every year for the next ten years. It feels as if I've danced practically every role in it — the Father, the Spanish dance, the Waltz of the Flowers, even the Sleigh Driver. I know every part inside out, so the whole thing drags along in a kind of Groundhog Day blur.

I danced the Nutcracker Prince in Tokyo a couple of years ago. I stood in the wings during the performance in a really uncomfortable outfit, feeling completely miserable. I promised myself there and then that that I wouldn't put myself through another one.

Matthew Parris, Times columnist, on the Beatles

I remember well enough the early Beatles in the 1960s. I was 14, a colonial boy in Africa, and listening to Jim Reeves, Ricky Nelson and Pat Boone — then along came these four lads from Liverpool, and everyone went crazy.

Exuberant, they said; a blast of fresh air. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Darling, it's so marvellously simple! Youthful passion, careless energy, innocent art. The sound that finally broke the spell of the Second World War. The Mersey beat (er, where is Mersey?) putting Liverpool on the map.

Well, it left me cold. I just thought it was crass. All that banging about, boring, babyish tunes and noisy choruses. I slightly fancied George Harrison, but that was all.

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, on Gilbert and Sullivan

I don't really like Gilbert and Sullivan, and that's partly because when I was a child in Birkenhead, my great uncle used to sing in amateur operatic society versions of The Mikado and a variety of other Gilbert and Sullivans, and I just don't like it. It brings back memories of sitting through — even though I should be very proud of my great uncle's voice — some fairly ghastly productions, and I just find it all rather twee.

Chris Addison, comedian, on Charles Dickens

To be fair to Dickens, he never really stood a chance with me because, like many middle-class children brought up in the 1970s and 1980s, my first real exposure to him was in the form of turgid, cardboardy BBC adaptations. These were pre-Andrew Davies times, remember, but even now for me Dickens is inextricably associated with the depressing back-to-school miasma of a dark Sunday evening. I've tried to get past this but I merely have to pick up a copy of one of his books and I can smell the Vosene of hair-washing night and the fear of knowing that I hadn't finished my homework. Not to mention the resentment of the fact that I was missing Buck Rogers on the other side.

Knut Haugland: A real-life adventure story

He fought the Nazis. He braved the Pacific. And he hated being called a hero. Jonathan Brown looks at the extraordinary career of Knut Haugland, the last Kon-Tiki survivor

Kon-Tiki crossing the Pacific Adventure stories rarely come more epic than that of Knut Haugland, the Norwegian resistance fighter who died on Christmas Day at the age of 92. His exploits were already the stuff of legend even before he joined Thor Heyerdahl's crew aboard his balsa wood raft, Kon-Tiki. Together they not only conquered the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean using only the most primitive of technologies – but in doing so, they helped rejuvenate the crushed spirit of human endeavour in the bleak aftermath of the Second World War.

A heavily decorated commando who escaped three times from the clutches of the Nazis, his bravery and endurance gave rise to one of the most enduring legends of the Second World War – one retold in spectacular style in a Hollywood movie.

Yesterday Haugland's successor as director of the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, where thousands flock each year to relive the optimism and excitement of that intrepid voyage, announced that the former radio operator had succumbed to natural causes in a city hospital, closing the final chapter on an extraordinary life.

Haugland's death, following that of Heyerdahl himself in 2002, marks the passing of the last of the six-man crew that set sail from Callao in Peru in April 1947, bound several thousand nautical miles for the far-flung islands of Polynesia based on little more than an anthropological hunch. That journey set a new benchmark for modern adventurers, spawning an international best-selling book published in 66 languages and an Oscar-winning film in which Haugland played himself. It also helped popularise Heyerdahl's passionately held belief that the great oceans had been highways and not barriers for the movement of ancient seafaring civilisations.

Can We Rescue the Republic Before the Dark Politics Take Over?

Books by Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann and Cass Sunstein suggest that we've nearly lost our sense of self-government. None show the way to get it back.

By Kirk Nielsen

Did America slip into a semiliterate, polarized, pre-fascist state over the past decade or so, allowing greedy oligarchs and corporate elites to run the government? Two books I recently read offer reasonably persuasive evidence and arguments that the country did, and a third suggests that dictatorial mindsets could besiege Americans, with an assist from the Internet, if they don't come to their more deliberative senses. Each of the books offers an informed diagnosis of the dangers that widespread ignorance and ideological polarization pose for American democracy, though none offers a comprehensive treatment for the malaise.

I read the three books in less than two weeks; friends ask how that was possible. The trick is to avoid not only Facebook and Twitter but also: celebrity news, cable news, Oprah, Jerry Springer, American Idol, The Swan, other reality-TV shows, professional wrestling, violent pornography, positive psychology and right-wing Christian fundamentalism.

The latter list includes some of the spectacularly mind-numbing American pursuits that Chris Hedges examines in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Hedges submits that while they mesmerized large portions of the American citizenry, CEOs being paid millions of dollars a year to run companies that feed on taxpayer money usurped our government — with the help of elected officials bought by campaign contributions and tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists who now write many of the nation's laws.

"Those captivated by the cult of celebrity do not examine voting records or compare verbal claims with written and published facts and reports," Hedges writes. "The reality of their world is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says is reality. The illiterate, semiliterate, and those who live as though they are illiterate are effectively cut off from the past. They live in an eternal present. They do not understand the predatory loan deals that drive them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. They cannot decipher the fine print on credit card agreements that plunge them into unmanageable debt. They repeat thought-terminating clichés and slogans. They seek refuge in familiar brands and labels. ... Life is a state of permanent amnesia, a world in search of new forms of escapism and quick, sensual gratification."

In the FT's parallel universe, Goldman Sachs boss is the hero of 2009 home

The wider public might view investment bankers as 'vampire squid', as one commentator put it, but the newspaper of the business world has made him its 'person of the year'

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs

Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, recently claimed that bankers were doing 'God's work'. Photograph: Chip East/Reuters

Hats off to the Financial Times for refusing to pander to lily-livered liberals. The pink paper has opined that its "person of the year" for 2009 is none other than Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of the widely reviled Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.

In the parallel universe inhabited by the FT, Blankfein is a hero - a "master of risk". The FT accepts that Blankfein has struggled to find an effective rebuttal of a deluge of public criticism unleashed on his bank.

But it says the former gold trader from the Bronx has "steered Goldman adeptly through the crisis, betting correctly that the global investment banks would survive the turmoil (with government help) and not be dismantled by regulators".

The FT's John Gapper continues: "The bank has stuck to its strengths, unashamedly taking advantage of the low interest rates and diminished competition resulting from the crisis to make big trading profits."

How charitable.


Political Animal

Remember, as far as most of the Republican establishment is concerned, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is the ultimate "ideas man," if not a bona fide "visionary." National Journal recently asked Republican insiders to name "the most creative thinker" in the GOP. Gingrich was easily the biggest vote getter.

If ol' Newt is the intellectual Republican powerhouse, the GOP has cause for concern.

Newt Gingrich became the latest to play the ridiculous "it's snowing so global warming must be a hoax" card. Gingrich took to Twitter -- where he's been schooled before -- on Saturday morning to share a few thoughts about the storm:

newtgingrich As callista and i watched what dc weather says will be 12 to 22 inches of snow i wondered if God was sending a message about copenhagen

Got that? A snowstorm along the East coast in December was, according to the former Speaker, a divine signal about international efforts to combat climate change. Seriously.

Q & A with Seth MacFarlane

The 'Family Guy' creator talks about his 'Star Wars' fixation, his visit to George Lucas' ranch and being targeted by the Parents Television Council.

Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane, 36, created "Family Guy," Fox's animated sitcom, which this year became the first cartoon series nominated for a prime-time Emmy since "The Flintstones" in 1961. Fox just released the DVD "Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side," a follow-up to the 2007 "Blue Harvest" episode that spoofed the "Star Wars" franchise.
How often do the Fox censors tell you that certain gags have to come out?

Very often. About half the jokes that are on our standards list in every episode don't make it into the show. You trade. It's about quantity.

You raised another firestorm recently by suggesting that Stewie is gay.

No, that was a journalist printing only part of the comment and making a story out of it. I said we had written an episode at one point in which Stewie comes out of the closet. But we scrapped it because we felt like we got a lot more mileage out of him being uncertain and not making that decision just yet.

That whole press whirlwind was hilarious to me. It's not even news. He's not gay -- he doesn't even exist!

Carol Burnett also sued you -- unsuccessfully -- over a parody that spoofed her famous cleaning-lady character. Do you think she has a sense of humor?

I would certainly hope so. I was at the Creative Arts Emmys this year, and Carol Burnett was one of the presenters. And when she came out, everyone gave her a standing ovation, including me. It was a moment that you only get in Hollywood: Giving a standing ovation to somebody who sued you a year ago.

How did it make you feel?

Like I had no spine.

Put Glenn Beck and the Tea Baggers on the NO FLY list, Please

Posted by Rack Jite

The father of the Nigerian who tried to bring down the passenger plane had reported his son as a radical to the authorities who should have put the boy on a no-fly list.

I dare YOU to watch a full hour of Glenn Beck on Fox News. I DARE YOU! I did not long ago and realized that no matter his father reported him or not, he is a mentally unstable radical who should be put on every NO FLY list in the world.

I also believe that his belief that Jesus is from Michigan is religious radicalism. So too is his End of Times desire to have Jesus murder every man, women and child (and unborn children) in the world but him and a few others. That is not only radical but insane.  

I also listened to his radio show a few days back in which the Senators voting for health care reform were referred to as "criminals" and "traitors" followed by not a few references to the second amendment and then the coup de grace, that WE KNOW where these treasonous criminal Senator's friends and family live.

DO NOT GET ON A PLANE WITH GLENN BECK. If you see him on your flight, ask to be let off.,-Please.html

Teacher suspended for article on gay animals

High school teacher assigns scientific article on homosexuality in the animal kingdom and is suspended. People ... science might be inconvenient but it is true.
Science illiteracy, it seems, has worked its way up to the administrative level at one public high school in Illinois
Dan Delong, a teacher at Southwestern High School, offered an optional reading assignment last week for his students — an article written by well-known science blogger Jonah Lehrer entitled the "The Gay Animal Kingdom" published in Seed Magazine.
The article discusses the challenges facing Darwin's theory of sexual selection, as more and more research is documenting the prevalence of homosexuality in over 450 vertebrate species. In some cases, like male big horn sheep, homosexuality is the norm.
The teacher was suspended without pay.
This is one more example of the growing epidemic of scientific illiteracy in U.S. public schools. The topics of evolution and climate change have also faced similar challenges. In some cases, especially in the rural South, teachers are literally afraid of teaching "science as truth" for fear of parental retribution.

Truth for Tea Baggers

Monday, December 28, 2009

Conservative Contraptions

Court Says No to Hemp


More than a year after two farmers appeared before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to argue for their right to grow industrial hemp without the intrusion of federal narcos, the court ruled Dec. 22 in favor of the Drug Enforcement Administration and, by default, the ban on U.S. hemp farming.

According to the court's decision, industrial hemp, the non-narcotic cousin of marijuana, is nothing more than dope and thus is regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act. And it matters not that hemp is grown for its seed, oil and fiber, and contains less than one percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in drug marijuana. "Under the CSA, marijuana is defined to include all Cannabis sativa L. plants, regardless of THC concentration," the court wrote. "The CSA likewise makes no distinction between Cannabis grown for drug use and that grown for industrial use."

Of course the CSA does exempt oil, fiber and nonactive seeds from regulation, but because all growing plants contain some level of THC, the court's reasoning is that the stated exceptions to regulation are, essentially, meaningless for farming purposes.

North Dakota farmers have been struggling with the DEA since the state passed a law to reintroduce hemp as a rotational crop in 1999. The law originally required state-licensed farmers to receive DEA approval, but after the agency made it clear it would make the farmers comply with regulations for drug manufacturing and would then also drag its feet in reviewing and deciding on the those applications, the state repealed that provision of the law. Wayne Hauge, a farmer from the northeastern part of the state, and David Monson, from the northwestern section and also a Republican state representative, were the first licensed in the state to grow hemp but have yet to do so because they face federal drug prosecution if they do so without DEA approval. The DEA has not acted on their applications to the agency for permission to grow the plant.

Now with the Eighth Circuit agreeing that the DEA has the power to regulate the cultivation of hemp, Hauge, Monson and the state of North Dakota have few options. They could appeal to the Supremes, as unlikely as that sounds, or they could go to Congress. That appears a more likely route, though how quickly that would result in any change is an open question: Texas Liberpublican Ron Paul has been trying to reauthorize hemp farming for years, but still hasn't gotten his bill a committee hearing. And last year the North Dakota delegation said it wasn't interested in pushing for hemp farming rights, even though the issue is a big one for constituents (there's representative government at work, thank you very little).

Palin’s “Death Panels” Charge Named “Lie of the Year”

By Susan Davis

Former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin's Facebook allegation that the Democrats' health-care overhaul would include "death panels" to decide whether seniors and disabled people were worthy of care was named "Lie of the Year" by fact-checkers at

"Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest," writes, the non-partisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning site run by the St. Petersburg Times. Palin's "assertion — that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care — spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings."

"Opponents of health-care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink," says.

The "death panels" allegation accounted for 61% of about 5,000 votes cast at to determine 2009's Lie of the Year. It is the first year has held such a contest. credits Palin for coining the phrase. Shortly after she first made the charge in August, fact-checkers rated the statement as "Pants on Fire" on their truth-o-meter.

Iran:Nightly chants at Tehran Ashura 88


Andrew Sullivan: "The cries of freedom. They bring tears to my eyes and hope to my soul. The sound: it makes every human stop in their tracks and demand that this vicious oppression end."

Police in Iran shot at protesters today, killing at least 10, including the nephew of a prominent opposition leader. Today is the holiday of Ashura, a sacred observance in the Muslim calendar which honors the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. More: New York Times, BBC, and a statement of condemnation from the White House. Times Online: Is this Iran's Berlin Wall moment? I'm following Cyrus Farivar on Twitter for English-language pointers to updates, please share other links in the comments.

Michele Bachmann: Welfare Queen

LOGO: Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines. A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.  

By Yasha Levine

Michelle Bachmann
AP / Charles Dharapak

Michele Bachmann has become well known for her anti-government tea-bagger antics, protesting health care reform and every other government "handout" as socialism. What her followers probably don't know is that Rep. Bachmann is, to use that anti-government slur, something of a welfare queen. That's right, the anti-government insurrectionist has taken more than a quarter-million dollars in government handouts thanks to corrupt farming subsidies she has been collecting for at least a decade.

And she's not the only one who has been padding her bank account with taxpayer money.

Bachmann, of Minnesota, has spent much of this year agitating against health care reform, whipping up the so-called tea-baggers with stories of death panels and rationed health care. She has called for a revolution against what she sees as Barack Obama's attempted socialist takeover of America, saying presidential policy is "reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom." 

But data compiled from federal records by Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit watchdog that tracks the recipients of agricultural subsidies in the United States, shows that Bachmann has an inner Marxist that is perfectly at ease with profiting from taxpayer largesse. According to the organization's records, Bachmann's family farm received $251,973 in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2006. The farm had been managed by Bachmann's recently deceased father-in-law and took in roughly $20,000 in 2006 and $28,000 in 2005, with the bulk of the subsidies going to dairy and corn. Both dairy and corn are heavily subsidized—or "socialized"—businesses in America (in 2005 alone, Washington spent $4.8 billion propping up corn prices) and are subject to strict government price controls. These subsidies are at the heart of America's bizarre planned agricultural economy and as far away from Michele Bachmann's free-market dream world as Cuba's free medical system. If American farms such as hers were forced to compete in the global free market, they would collapse.

However, Bachmann doesn't think other Americans should benefit from such protection and assistance. She voted against every foreclosure relief bill aimed at helping average homeowners (despite the fact that her district had the highest foreclosure rate in Minnesota), saying that bailing out homeowners would be "rewarding the irresponsible while punishing those who have been playing by the rules." That's right, the subsidy queen wants the rest of us to be responsible.

Ben Nelson: Legislator of the Year

This is beggar-my-nation legislating.

By Rich Lowry

Too bad Barack Obama hasn't followed through on his promises of legislative transparency. Then we all could have watched Harry Reid live on C-SPAN handing an oversized Publishers Clearing Housestyle $100 million check to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.

The highest-profile Democratic hold-out on Obamacare, Nelson said last week, "My vote is not for sale." He obviously meant that in the sense that he
'd be righteously indignant at any suggestion that his vote could possibly be bought for anything less than the low nine digits.

Nelson got the feds to pick up forevermore 100 percent of the additional Medicaid spending that will be imposed on Nebraska by the bill. In stereotypically Orwellian fashion, the provision is called "Equitable Support for Certain States." That, naturally enough, translates into special, inequitable support for three states, totaling $1.2 billion over ten years. Vermont and Massachusetts argue they are due the funds for prior expansions of Medicaid, but what
's Nebraska's excuse?


An Avatar Awakening

By David Swanson

Let's face it, if James Cameron had made a movie with the Iraqi resistance as the heroes and the U.S. military as the enemies, and had set it in Iraq or anywhere else on planet earth, the packed theaters viewing "Avatar" would have been replaced by a screening in a living room for eight people and a dog.

Nineteen years ago, Americans packed theaters for "Dances with Wolves" in which Native Americans became the heroes, but the story was set in a previous century and the message understated.

The Na'vi people of "Avatar" are very explicitly Iraqis facing "shock and awe," as well as Native Americans with bows and arrows on horseback. The "bad guys" in the battle scenes are U.S. mercenaries, essentially the U.S. military, and the movie allows us to see them, very much as they are right now in 177 real nations around the world, through the eyes of their victims.

People know this going into the movie, and do not care. For better, and certainly for worse, they do not care. Millions of people stand in lines, shell out big bucks, wear stupid-looking 3-D glasses, sit in the dark for three hours, identify with twelve-foot-high pointy-eared blue people, cheer as the credits roll, and simply do not care that actual human beings suffer the same fate as the computer-generated creations, albeit without miraculous happy endings.

Imagine if a tenth of the people who now sympathize with these bony blue beings were to take three hours to read a book or watch a movie about the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Iran. Our real planet would then be a different world.

When I saw "Avatar" in a packed 3-D theater in Virginia, and the crowd cheered the closing shot, I shouted: "And get out of Iraq too!" No one cheered for that. But no one called me a traitor either.


Well, That Sure Sucked: Good Riddance To The Devil's Decade

Smirking Chimp

As I understand it, certain pundits are struggling with finding an appropriate name for the decade now mercifully coming to an end.

What's the problem, I wonder? Are their word processor dictionaries redacted of all four-letter words? I mean, I could think of a few dandies, right of the top of my head.

Short of the 1860s or 1930s, this was perhaps the most disastrous decade in American history, and it deserves a good goddamed label to celebrate that fine achievement.

More on that below. Meanwhile, whatever the appropriate term, it's important to keep things in perspective. I think the most crucial notion to understand about our time - and perhaps the only way to make sense of it - is to see it as the point where the process of imperial decline shifted into third gear. That explains a lot. I like to think that even Americans wouldn't be capable of the sick stupidity we've witnessed over these harrowing years without the effects of rapid altitude decline and the loss of cabin pressure that the ship of state has been experiencing during this era.

Perhaps I'm too generous toward a people who don't deserve a lot of that sentiment, either because of their diminished intelligence, generosity, compassion, sophistication or all of the above. I imagine that would be the feeling on the streets of, say, Fallujah, where the attitude might well be confined to a lovely blend of schadenfreude and indifference, were it not for the fact that the paroxysms of the flailing elephant send so many fruit stands flying as the mortally wounded beast goes careening down the main street of the global village, toward inevitable defeat in its struggle with unforgiving gravity.

America probably must come down to earth again, its abortive 'century' of world dominance having anyhow been artificially fabricated from a toxic combination of circumstance and theft right from the beginning. I can even say that's not necessarily a bad thing. But it is, of course, all relative to what replaces Pax Americana. Anyone who assumes that it can only get better on the international front isn't thinking real clearly or real historically. Indeed, in all fairness, the US may well have run the most benign and least imperial empire in history - though not for lack of trying by the likes of, say, Paul Wolfowitz or John Bolton.

Thus it may well be that the next big thing is even less pretty. Watching the Chinese government in action at home, where they are unfettered, doesn't exactly inspire confidence in what a Pax Sinica would bring once they are also unfettered abroad. If the same cats who brought us Tiananmen Square and Tibet are next gonna be seeking planetary domination, for once in my life I may actually come to appreciate the value of nuclear weapons...