Thursday, May 7, 2009

Man exploiting man

Pirate Party 3rd Largest Political Party in Sweden

by Ernesto

Support for the Swedish Pirate Party surged following the Pirate Bay verdict and today it became the third largest political party in the country. When they are elected for the European Parliament next month, the party hopes to end the abuse of copyright by multi-billion dollar corporations.

pirate partyThe explosive growth rate displayed after the Pirate Bay verdict has skyrocketed the Pirate Party's member count and today they've surpassed that of the Center Party. Of all the established parties only the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party have more members.

The Pirate Party has tripled its ranks in only three weeks up to 44,000 members, and it's on course to become the second largest political part in the country. TorrentFreak caught up with party leader Rick Falkvinge to congratulate him on this unprecedented achievement, and we used the opportunity to find out more about his future plans. First off, we asked him if the recent surge in members can be solely attributed to the outcome of the Pirate Bay trial.

"The Pirate Bay verdict was not a single event, but the final straw in a long series of events," Falkvinge replied. "We tripled our member count in a week, and have kept growing at an accelerated pace. With just one month till the European elections, the timing of these horrible events arguably work as a catalyst for change."

Falkvinge is looking forward to the upcoming European Parliament elections on June 6 this year. "I'm extremely optimistic," he told TorrentFreak. "It's not a question of 'a' seat any more. If everybody who is angry with the Pirate Bay verdict goes to vote, we will get at least one seat, and probably more."

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Slow news day? #1

Woman: 'GOD' Spelled Out In Salami

Is it a divine message or a meaty coincidence trapped in casing?

A South Florida woman said she was cooking fried salami when she noticed the word "GOD" on the meat, Miami television station WFOR reported.

Nancy Simoes said she had three pieces in a skillet and flipped one of them and saw the letter G.

"Then got the O and I thought to myself how cool will it be if the third letter was a D."

Simoes realizes people may think she's crazy.

"I can't make this up. ... it's there in the burn marks."

Specter Wants Coleman To Win In Minnesota

Memo to Sen. Arlen Specter (RD-PA): You're supposed to be a Democrat now.

In an interview with the New York Times, Specter stated in no uncertain terms that he wants Norm Coleman to win the disputed Minnesota Senate race: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

So what exactly are the Dems getting out of this whole deal?

Late Update: NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson gives us this comment: "First he voted against President Obama's budget, then he said he wouldn't be a loyal Democrat, now he wants Norm Coleman to win. We've never agreed so much with Arlen Specter. You just have to wonder whether Joe Sestak agrees with the positions of his fellow Pennsylvania Democrat?"

Late Late Update: It's possible that Specter might have been telling a joke -- a really bad joke that someone in his position shouldn't even be attempting. I've put in a request for comment/clarification to his office, and have yet to hear back.

The least I can do

Ultimate Generational Bummer

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- People have accused the baby boomers of being whiners almost since we were born. But just wait until we get to retirement age and discover that we don't have nearly enough money to take care of our "golden years." That's going to be the ultimate generational bummer.

I've been gathering some data about what I'll call, with the usual boomer understatement, the "retirement crisis." My mentors have been Eugene Ludwig, the head of the consulting firm Promontory Financial Group, and his colleague Michael Foot. The numbers show a genuinely frightening gap between what people have saved for retirement and what they will need. And many of these studies don't take into account last year's stock market crash, which will make the problem worse.

Let's start with the basic fact that only about half of Americans have any employer-sponsored retirement plan at all. The other folks will have to depend on Social Security. For a typical boomer worker, that would mean a monthly benefit of about $2,400 if you reach retirement age of 66 in 2020. On that, you won't be able to afford many lattes at Starbucks.

But let's assume that our average worker is one of the lucky ones with an employer-sponsored pension. Not so long ago, that usually would have meant a "defined benefit" pension at retirement. About 80 percent of employees in medium and large companies had such plans in 1985, according to the Labor Department. By 2000, the defined-benefit recipients totaled just 36 percent.

What's happened is that employees have taken on the investment and actuarial risks, as their employers shifted to "defined contribution" formulas. Employers now contribute to 401(k) plans that are managed by the employees. Unfortunately, workers often don't do a good job as investors. They underestimate what they will need in retirement, and they underfund their 401(k) plans. And as for shifting out of stocks before the market tanks, well, let's just forget about that. ...

How bad are baby boomers at financial planning? Extremely bad, according to Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia Mitchell of the National Bureau of Economic Research. They found that more than one-quarter of boomer households thought "hardly at all" about retirement, and that financial literacy among boomers was "alarmingly low." Half could not do a simple math calculation (divide $2 million by 5) and fewer than 20 percent could calculate compound interest. The NBER researchers also found that, as of 2004, the typical boomer household was holding nearly half its wealth in the form of housing equity. Uh-oh.

The Right's pandemic paranoia

by Brian Frederick

While the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control spent the week informing the public with details on the H1N1 virus, the right-wing noise machine spent the week misinforming the public with paranoid theories about the virus. Because the flu virus may have originated in Mexico, the story provided some on the right with an excuse to engage in some good-old fashioned immigrant-bashing and renew their calls for greater border security. The story also provided right-wing media figures with more fuel for their fear-mongering about the Obama administration.

As the story of the H1N1 virus emerged, it was initially referred to as the "swine flu," but the Obama administration called for moving away from that language because it was contributing to baseless fears that the virus had to do with pork consumption. This did not sit well with CNN's Lou Dobbs, who referred to people using the H1N1 terminology as "idiots" and claiming "they are out of their cotton pickin' minds." Such people include several of Dobbs' colleagues at CNN, including the network's chief medical correspondent.

In response to the administration's request for a name change, radio host Neil Boortz suggested calling the virus the "fajita flu." But that was one of Boortz's more tepid comments about the virus. Boortz stirred up fears that the virus was some sort of "bioterrorist" plot, asking, "What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?" Similarly, radio host Michael Savage claimed, "There is certainly the possibility that our dear friends in the Middle East cooked this up in a laboratory somewhere in a cave and brought it to Mexico knowing that our incompetent government would not protect us from this epidemic because of our open-border policies." After all, Savage claimed, the terrorists might have known that Mexicans "are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America."

It's hard to determine which came first -- the intolerance or the paranoia.

Springsteen to Seeger: 'You Outlasted the Bastards'

by Katrina vanden Heuvel

"You outlasted the bastards, man," Bruce Springsteen told the roaring crowd.

I think that was my favorite line at the rollicking birthday concert celebrating Pete Seeger's 90th!

There were other uplifting, astonishing moments Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, at a five-hour concert which Seeger only OK'd because it raised much-needed funds for his Clearwater project--a non profit organization which the oft-maligned bard started in 1969 to clean up his beloved, polluted Hudson River.

Fifteen thousand people, of all ages, (okay, median age was probably 55) danced, clapped and sang along as Seeger did a soaring version of "Amazing Grace" and the saintly looking Joan Baez sang " Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

Arlo Guthrie reminded us that Pete, like his father Woody, "believed in the power of the people singing songs to change the world." Richie Havens reminded us why "Freedom" is a great anthem for all times. Tim Robbins and his son, strumming the guitar, to "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore." Ruby Dee entranced with her enchanting reading of a poem (for peace) written by Pete's uncle before he joined the Foreign Legion. In between, a startlingly youthful Emmylou Harris recounted correspondence she had with Pete as a young folk singer; Tom Morello and Taj Mahal teamed up on "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy"), and John Mellencamp offered up "If I Had a Hammer." Congressman John Hall, once the lead singer for one of my favorite groups, "Orleans," joined in several rounds.

Toward the end of the five-hour Seeger-apoza, Springsteen announced to the crowd, "Pete's gonna come out," and "He's gonna look like your granddad--if your granddad could kick your ass." If character and integrity keeps you youthful, and I believe it does. Seeger looked all of 25--of strong backbone and spirit and moxie and with keen eyes which are the stronger for having seen the best, and the worst, of our country's history.

In so many ways, Pete is a repository of American history in himself. As Springsteen said, he has a "stubborn, nasty, defiant optimism," and he serves as "the stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself."

Nixon has a burrito

Slow News Day? #2

Rooster wanders into Keokuk County jail

SIGOURNEY — Cock-a-doodle-whoa.

By Jeff RaaschA rooster surprised deputies in Keokuk County this morning when it wandered into the jail from a house down the street. Dispatcher Terry Burger was on the phone with a reporter from The Gazette when the phone went silent.

"Whoa, we've got a rooster in here," Burger said. "Can you hear him?"

Burger said the rooster visits the jail occasionally. A residence nearby is home to about a dozen of them, he said.

"The people that live down the street have a fenced in area, and they sell eggs," Burger said. "Every once in a while, the kids leave the gate open and one wanders down here."

Burger said deputies shooed the rooster outside and went on with their day.

Ready, Aim—Dream! Has photography blinded us to the reality of the American West?

Once you allow figures into a landscape, it's hard to lock all narrative out. As Arthur Miller said on the set of the movie The Misfits in the Nevada desert: "The people were so little and the landscape was so enormous." It's hard not to see a story there.

Consider Darius Kinsey's 1906 photograph Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference. Here Kinsey shows part of a large tree, mortally wounded and flanked by small men with axes and saws. In the mouth of the tree's fatal crack lies a man, alive, relaxed, almost smiling. He is a picture of true machismo, casual and radiant in the face of death. Kinsey, who was clearly aiming for a David and Goliath tale, must have set up the shot: "You, there, you crawl into that crack, and I'll pay you a buck!" Still, the man in the maw really must have been brave enough to lie there. So I'd say this is not so much a pure fantasy as a tale of true grit.

Darius Kinsey, Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, 1906. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Meet India's first porn star

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Here she comes: Saudi's Miss Beautiful Morals

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Sukaina al-Zayer is an unlikely beauty queen hopeful. She covers her face and body in black robes and an Islamic veil, so no one can tell what she looks like. She also admits she's a little on the plump side.

But at Saudi Arabia's only beauty pageant, the judges don't care about a perfect figure or face. What they're looking for in the quest for "Miss Beautiful Morals" is the contestant who shows the most devotion and respect for her parents.

"The idea of the pageant is to measure the contestants' commitment to Islamic morals... It's an alternative to the calls for decadence in the other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks," said pageant founder Khadra al-Mubarak.

"The winner won't necessarily be pretty," she added. "We care about the beauty of the soul and the morals."

So after the pageant opens Saturday, the nearly 200 contestants will spend the next 10 weeks attending classes and being quizzed on themes including "Discovering your inner strength," "The making of leaders" and "Mom, paradise is at your feet" - a saying attributed to Islam's Prophet Muhammad to underline that respect for parents is among the faith's most important tenets.

Pageant hopefuls will also spend a day at a country house with their mothers, where they will be observed by female judges and graded on how they interact with their mothers, al-Mubarak said. Since the pageant is not televised and no men are involved, contestants can take off the veils and black figure-hiding abayas they always wear in public.

The Miss Beautiful Morals pageant is the latest example of conservative Muslims co-opting Western-style formats to spread their message in the face of the onslaught of foreign influences flooding the region through the Internet and satellite television.

Meanwhile, in Wasilla...