Thursday, October 8, 2009

Congressional Believe it or Not

Taliban claim they pose no threat to west home

Statement on known Taliban website may indicate that leaders are retreating from alliance with al-Qaida

taliban fightersTaliban fighters pose with weapons on 19 August. The leadership has posted a statement online saying they pose no threat to other countries. Photograph: Reuters

The Taliban have issued an English-language statement claiming they pose no international threat – a move that will fuel the debate among US and European policymakers over whether the hardline Afghan insurgent group can be split away from the international militants of al-Qaida.

The statement came amid reports that Barack Obama's military advisers are shifting the focus of US operations to target al-Qaida in Pakistan while downplaying the threat posed to America by the Taliban.

But 36 hours after the statement was released, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a massive suicide bomb targeting the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed at least 17 people.

Published yesterday on the eighth anniversary of the first coalition strikes on Afghanistan in 2001, the communique declared the militants' aim to be the "obtainment of independence and establishment of an Islamic system".

"We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe nor we have such agenda today," said the statement, which was posted on a known Taliban website. "Still, if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war."

The statement's authenticity is yet to be confirmed, but the claim would appear to be evidence at the very least that the Taliban are seeking to influence the strategic argument in the west.

Harold Evans: 'We have to keep doing it'

Revered editor Harold Evans still has an infectious enthusiasm for journalism more than 50 years after his first newspaper job. He tells Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger why the future of news is worth fighting for

Sir Harold Evans

The picture above is of an 81-year-old man taking a newspaper by storm. It is a picture of an editorial life-force, still insatiably curious, still shaking an impatient fist at the world. It is a picture of a showman.

Every Guardian reader over the age of 40 – and a good many younger – will recognise the distinctive figure of a newspaper legend: Harry Evans.  He is smaller now, his legs slower and his hair whiter.  But when he came into the Guardian's morning conference on Thursday he held an audience of journalists – many of them not born when he left his last great editorial job in 1982 – in the palm of his hand.

He was here as part of a whistlestop tour to promote the latest volume of his autobiography, My Paper Chase. There is pure nostalgia in his descriptions of the newsrooms of the past – a misty collage of paste pots, cigarette smoke, lead and ink.  But it is nostalgia with a purpose:  "I didn't want to write an extended obituary of journalism," he says. "One of the reasons I wrote the book ...  I wanted to do something which showed you what newspapers could do when they tried and had the will to do it."

Insurance, health interests fill Baucus' coffers


As Sen. Max Baucus has taken the lead on health reform legislation in the U.S. Senate, he also has become a leader in something else: campaign money received from health and insurance industry interests.

In the past six years, nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana Democrat and his political action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical supply firms, health service companies and other health professionals.

These donations total about $3.4 million, or $1,500 a day, every day, from January 2003 through 2008.

The Coen brothers: Just accept the mystery

The filmmaking tandem advise you to toss out any thoughts of clear-eyed analysis when it comes to navigating the pitch-black worlds of their canon. But we ignore the advice.

Coen brothers
"We don't engage in a lot of reflection when it comes to our movies," says filmmaker Joel Coen, left. "And we'd love it if everyone followed our lead," adds Ethan. (Wilson Webb)
The Coen brothers' new movie, "A Serious Man," opens with a piece of advice from medieval French rabbi Rashi: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you."

Fast forward to the film's long-suffering hero, physics professor Larry Gopnik, who would really like to heed those words, but after entering a world of pain and enduring a series of misfortunes that would put Job to shame, Larry needs answers, not proverbs. What did he do to deserve all this? And why does he seem so suddenly alone in a cruel, cruel world?

The Coens' 14th feature certainly has more than its share of autobiographical elements. Joel, 54, and Ethan, 52, were raised in an academic Jewish family in the same Minneapolis suburb where they shot "A Serious Man." The film is set in 1967, a time when Joel and Ethan were in the thick of their Hebrew school education -- which they hated, much like Larry's son who, like the Coens, would rather watch "F-Troop."

"I'm sure they're all wondering: 'Is that all you could think of?' " Ethan Coen says, musing on what their former teachers might make of "A Serious Man."

Richard Kind, the actor playing Larry's mad-genius brother, believes the movie's pitch-black fatalism reflects the brothers' worldview, which prompts the following measured response:

Joel: "That's just what we told Richard."

Ethan: "As a world view -- " and here he pauses, agonizing over the slightest prospect of revelation, "yyyyyyyeaaaaaah. It's an interesting story."

Joel: "I think I even remember saying to Richard, 'Look. This is how I view the world. So don't mess this up.' "

When it comes to the intersection of the Coens' lives and work, they offer their own advice, which to them is every bit as important as anything Rashi might have said. It's found midway through "A Serious Man," when the Korean father of one of Larry's students comes calling. Larry believes the student tried to bribe him, leaving a thick envelope of cash on his desk. The father disputes this and plans to sue Larry for defamation.

Unless, of course, Larry keeps the cash and changes the kid's grade.

Larry, understandably, is confused. How can you sue for defamation if you're copping to the envelope's existence?

The father's advice? "Accept the mystery."

Is that the way the Coens would like people to approach their films?

"Yes! Please!" Joel begs. "We don't engage in a lot of reflection when it comes to our movies -- "

" -- and we'd love it if everyone followed our lead," Ethan adds, chuckling.

But when you immerse yourself in their work, there are certain themes, certain threads that, you know, really tie the room together. And while the Coens might dispute that, calling themselves mere "storytellers," we can't help but think that "A Serious Man" is just the latest example of the brothers' idiosyncratically personal filmmaking.

A look at what they've secretly been trying to tell us:

Blood Simple (1984)

Defining dialogue: "The world is full of complainers. But the fact is, nothing comes with a guarantee. I don't care if you're the pope of Rome, president of the United States, or even man of the year -- something can always go wrong."

The curtain-raiser and template-setter for what was to come. It's all there -- the worship of the hard-boiled detective fiction of James M. Cain, the presence of Frances McDormand (who'd marry Joel in 1984), the yo-yo-ing between high and low impulses, the serious purposefulness filtered through irony. And that opening line, spoken by M. Emmet Walsh, neatly sums up their latest movie, as well as their initial salvo.,0,645163.story

Punkanimals 2

Animals sporting some shocking fashions

Bacon + Bourbon: The Next Big Thing?

IMG_6140.JPG​If the results of Monday night's Manhattan Experience contest are anything to go by, the answer is yes.

It appears -- for now, at least -- that bacon hasn't entirely jumped the shark. The winning entry in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience at the Houston Museum of Natural Science featured a Manhattan augmented with maple syrup and candied bacon, a concoction devised by Derek Black, bartender at The Rockwood Room.

IMG_6138.JPGThe smokiness of the candied bacon bits that rimmed the martini glass subtly augmented the woodsy flavor of the bacon-infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, with a sweet finish from the similarly woodsy maple syrup (used in place of sweet vermouth), making for an almost irresistable cocktail from top to bottom.

Other entries in the event were equally impressive, with an emphasis on creatively enhancing the classic Manhattan recipe of bourbon, bitters and sweet vermouth. Dimitra Kriticos of Olympia at Pier 21 (the popular Kriticos family's second restaurant in Galveston) created a baklava-inspired Manhattan that featured cinnamon and nutmeg in a powdered sugar-rimmed glass with a glistening bite of baklava on the side. Joe Le from Aca Sushi created a Japanese-themed Manhattan with green tea liqueur. And our personal favorite Manhattan, in which a whole vanilla bean was reduced in Grand Marnier and infused into the cocktail, was created by Michael Raymond of Reserve 101.

Soldiers Fighting the War on Christmas Hypocritically Use Capitalism as a Weapon Against the Godless Liberals at The Gap

by Meg White

As the seasonal retail admonishment goes, Christmas comes earlier every year. And that means the religious right has already launched their annual war against the war on Christmas. But this year, the ultra-conservative American Family Association is taking the crusade to new levels of shameless self-promotion.

With consumer spending expectations especially low for this holiday season, retailers are even more sensitive to customer proclivities. Some are trying to be more inclusive in their marketing and others are instructing their employees to greet customers with "Happy Holidays!" rather than specifying a religious event for people to be merry about.

Still other companies seem fearful of losing the militant Christian dollar. Sears created a "Christmas Club" card that rewards customers for saving up Christmas spending money destined for their stores. The American Family Association (AFA) insists the card is the direct result of pressure from their organization pushing retailers to openly use the word "Christmas."

Dismayed that the folks at The Gap and others will continue to eschew the word "Christ" in their holiday advertising, the AFA has come up with a new tactic to combat this terrible scourge on Jesus' birthday, which they're calling "Project Merry Christmas."

While it appears the campaign has been going since September, the AFA sent out an action alert last Saturday to let good Christians know about what they can do to fight the long-running war on Christmas:

Christians can take a stand and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a "holy day" when we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

So how do they suggest combating the materialism of modern Christmas? By buying more crap, of course:

Here's how you can take a stand for Christmas. AFA is making available an attractive button and sticker that carry this thought-provoking, Gospel-focused message: "God's Gift: Merry Christmas."

Purchase enough buttons for each member of your church and enough glossy stickers for each family to have AFA merry war on x-masone to go on their automobiles. Urge your fellow members to wear their buttons and display the glossy stickers during the entire Christmas season.

They even suggest getting children into the act of marrying Jesus' birth to conservative capitalism, suggesting that "if you are unable to sponsor your church yourself, ask your Sunday School class to make it a class project." Yeah, that ought to teach kids the true value of Jesus.

The buttons are not offered at a huge discount, however, ranging from 52 cents to 90 cents a button, depending upon how many you buy. The stickers are even more expensive, ranging from $1.00 to $1.50 each. Moreover, while shipping is free, it also takes some three to four weeks to arrive. I very much doubt they are losing money on this deal.

And don't you worry; once the post-ascension blues sets in and the tannenbaum becomes a fire hazard, your vehicle can go back to normal, because the stickers are "easy to remove." So much for keeping Christmas in your heart all year round!

Behold! Canada's most disgusting export

Nothing like Alberta's's revolting oilsands to destroy your optimism

Are you having one of those days? One of those moments where you feel like you've endured a simply relentless onslaught of negative news and economic hardship coupled to endless rounds of cretinous politicians -- all of whom enjoy fully paid health care on your tab -- debating whether or not you'll be able to afford to see a doctor ever again, all to the point where you say, you know what? I need just one more.

Just one more really good, depressing story to put me over the top, ruin not just my day but maybe taint my entire month, a tale so vicious and disheartening I immediately start yelling at my girlfriend for no real reason and slam the cupboard because I realized I'm out of peanut butter, and I absolutely refuse to smile at anyone because they're all clearly complicit in making this world a bleak and miserable hellpit of oh my God you suck.

Why, sweetheart, step on over here for a moment. I have just what you need. You need to read a bit more about Alberta's infamous oilsands.

Have you heard? Have you taken even a cursory peek lately into the oversized eco nightmare that is Canada's monstrous, pollutive, disgusting hellholes of rapacious greed and pollution and destruction and sheer capitalistic joy? I bet you have.

They are, you might say, the finest example we currently have of a massive, soulless industry and a major first-world government shoving a giant middle finger in the face of all notions of progress and environmental integrity. They're not the only ones, to be sure -- the coal industry's middle finger is downright callused from flipping everyone off so aggressively -- but for sheer gall, for shamelessly stomping a greasy black boot heel into the face of environmental progress right now, the oilsands simply can't be beat.

They are true wonders, testaments to mankind's remarkable power to continue -- against every hunk of knowledge and common sense -- to rape, maul and utterly devastate everything we supposedly hold dear, all in the name of filthy profit.

Despite whatever good vibes you might've been feeling from all those rumors of a healthy global push toward sustainability and alternative energy, the oilsands remind you: no one really gives a flying f--k. Not when hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake. You cannot help but be perversely impressed.

Some argue the oilsands are the future of synthetic petroleum. Experts say there's enough black gold stuck deep in that greasy bitumen -- spread across a region the size of Florida -- that it could last us until we lose what's left of our souls and/or entirely block out the goddamn sun, whichever comes first. The problem, of course, is getting the toxic gunk out of the ground.

The numbers are simply astonishing: The amount of land, water, natural gas, and CO2 emissions required to produce a single barrel of synthetic oil from the oilsands is staggering enough, but when you add in all the contaminated rivers, the toxic tailing ponds (2.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools' worth, and counting), the decimated landscape, the dead animals, the increased cancer rates among anyone living within a 100-mile radius, well, you've got more than enough charming data to effortlessly destroy any glimmer of positivism you might've enjoyed from composting your pizza boxes.

Egyptian lawmakers want to ban 'Artificial Virginity Hymen' kit


CAIRO — Conservative Egyptian lawmakers have called for a ban on imports of a Chinese-made kit meant to help women fake their virginity and one scholar has even called for the "exile" of anyone who imports or uses it.

The Artificial Virginity Hymen kit, distributed by the Chinese company Gigimo, costs about $30. It is intended to help newly married women fool their husbands into believing they are virgins — culturally important in a conservative Middle East where sex before marriage is considered by many to be illicit. The product leaks a blood-like substance when inserted and broken.

Gigimo advertises shipping to every Arab country. But the company did not answer e-mails and phone calls seeking comment on whether it had orders from Egypt or other parts of the Middle East.

The fracas started when a reporter from Radio Netherlands broadcast an Arabic translation of the Chinese advertisement of the product. That set off fears of conservative parliament members that Egyptian women might start ordering the kits.

Sheik Sayed Askar, a member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who is on the parliamentary committee on religious affairs, said the kit will make it easier for Egyptian women to give in to temptation. He demanded the government take responsibility for fighting the product to uphold Egyptian and Arab values.

‘Leopard Behind You!’

I'd like to continue Predator Appreciation Month with reflections on one of the more intriguing effects that predators can have on their prey: the development of a vocabulary of alarm. (Or should that be "an alarming vocabulary"?)

Vervet monkeyThis isn't a complicated vocabulary, with thousands of words. Nonetheless, it's clear that for many animals, alarm calls are more than simple squawks of fear. Vervet monkeys, for instance, use different sounds to warn of different types of predator. "Leopard!" is not the same as "snake!" or "eagle!" If you hide a loudspeaker in the bushes, and startle unsuspecting monkeys by playing recordings of "snake!" at them, they will look around at the ground. "Eagle!" makes them look up. "Leopard!" sends them scampering to the trees.

Vervets aren't unique. Other primates — including Diana monkeys and Campbell's monkeys — also distinguish between eagles and leopards. (Diana monkeys are elegant animals, with fur of several colors. Also, like male vervets and Campbell's monkeys, male Dianas have a scrotum that's a tasteful shade of blue.)

Diana mokeysSome animals make rather subtle distinctions. Gunnison's prairie dogs have a different sound for each of coyotes, dogs, hawks and humans. More impressive, they describe what a particular dangerous animal looks like: a human in a blue shirt is announced differently from a human in a yellow shirt. Similarly, meerkats — those charismatic mongooses that stand on their hind legs to scan for predators — give calls that announce both the general type of predator (coming from the sky, coming from the ground) and how close it is — in other words, how urgently everyone should react. Black-capped chickadees — small songbirds that live in North America — have calls that say whether a predator is flying or resting, and if it is resting, how dangerous it is. For example, pygmy owls eat lots of songbirds; horned owls don't. Sure enough, chickadees kick up more of a fuss about perched pygmy owls than they do about perched horned owls.

Fox News attacks ACORN over grant to give smoke detectors to low-income families

Fox News' Bill Hemmer criticized the Department of Homeland Security for awarding a since-rescinded fire prevention grant to ACORN, ignoring that the Bush administration awarded similar grants to ACORN in 2007. Moreover, other Fox personalities and The Washington Times claimed that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) "made this public," even though the grant was reported on long before Vitter mentioned them.


Fox News' Hemmer: ACORN given "money typically earmarked for fire departments all across the country"

"Doesn't look like much firefighting there." Discussing a $997,402 fire prevention and safety grant awarded to ACORN by FEMA through the Department of Homeland Security, Hemmer juxtaposed file footage of fire trucks and ACORN workers to ask, "[W]hen it comes to firefighting, is this what you think of?" Hemmer went on to report that the funds are "typically earmarked for fire departments all across the country" but did not note that the grant was for fire prevention. [Fox News' America's Newsroom, 10/7/09]

But grant was for "fire prevention and safety activity," and ACORN received a similar one during Bush administration

Bush administration awarded ACORN similar grant in 2007. Hemmer did not note that ACORN received similar funding thorough the same program during the Bush administration. In 2007, ACORN applied for a fire prevention and safety grant through FEMA and was awarded $450,484 in August 2008.

ACORN was to distribute smoke detectors, other equipment. ACORN reportedly planned "to use the money to assess fire safety in the homes of low and moderate-income families and hand out smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and other fire prevention gear." [Associated Press, 9/16/09] (Following Hemmer's report, The Hill's Tony Romm wrote in an October 7 blog post: "The Department of Homeland Security initially earmarked the money for ACORN long before House and Senate lawmakers mobilized to cut the group's access to federal dollars, but FEMA never followed through and provided ACORN the money.")

FEMA lists "community organizations" as eligible for grants in guidelines

From FEMA's Program and Application Guidance document:

A.     Fire Prevention and Safety Activity

Eligible applicants for this activity include fire departments, and national, regional, state, local, or community organizations that are recognized for their experience and expertise in fire prevention and safety programs and activities. Both private and public non-profit organizations are eligible to apply for funding in this activity. For-profit organizations are not eligible to receive a FP&S grant award. For all grantees the Federal share of the project cost (i.e., amount of Federal award dollars) is limited to $1 million per application.

Hemp crops can save the world - Part 2

by Adam Roth


Similar to the way ancient cultures added straw to clay to reinforce bricks, hemp fibres added to concrete increase tensile strength, as well as reducing shrinkage and cracking. It can also be mixed with gypsum to produce light panels, or lime to make plaster. A combination mixture can be used for foundations, walls and ceilings, which is lighter than cement and has better sound and heat insulating properties. There has even been a ceramic tile equivalent produced. The quality of building materials is such that whole houses have been made based on hemp fibre.


The actual building structure is not the only thing that can benefit from hemp's insulating properties. The production of thermal insulation products is one of the most important sectors of the hemp industry. Hemp hurds are perfect to use due to their high silica content, and can be mixed with lime to produce a material which can be blown into areas requiring insulation. Since it is naturally renewable, it is better for the environment and can help to reduce heating costs for existing households.


Hemp is a major competitor to the cotton industry. It produces 250% more fibres than cotton and doesn't require the same cocktail of chemicals cotton needs to grow successfully. It is said that around half of the world's pesticides are used on cotton crops. Hemp is also far stronger, durable, absorbent, insulative and resistant to UV light and mold than cotton. Although it is generally coarse, advancements in processing have enabled a softening of hemp fibres to a comfortable level. Apart from clothing, hemp can also be used to produce coarse textiles such as upholstery and carpets.


Hemp can produce more than four times the dry weight of fibre in comparison to the average forest on the same size land. Additionally, trees will take approximately twenty years to regrow, where hemp can reach maturity in around four months. Apart from being far more practical to produce paper in terms of growth times and production levels, hemp paper is of a far superior quality to tree paper. Wood pulp paper may be lucky to last 50 years, whereas hemp pulp paper has been known to last centuries or even millennia. It can also be recycled many more times than traditional paper.

Animal Products

Hemp hurds make exceptionally good animal bedding, which can be used for horses, cats and other pets. They do not produce dust, are easily composted and can absorb up to five times their weight in moisture. They are a great alternative bedding for horses, which are sometimes allergic to straw. Hemps seeds are also used as animal feed. Due to their cost, they are generally not considered for livestock feed, but are excellent for small animals such as birds and poultry.

Personal Care Products

Hempseed oil has a wide variety of uses, especially in the personal care product range. It is widely used in creams as a moisturising agent and is excellent for skin care. It is also present in a number of leading brand's lotions, moisturisers, lip balms and perfumes. Bathroom products containing hemp are also popular, with soaps, shampoos and bubble baths being sold having a hemp component.

Motor vehicles

Today, many car parts are manufactured using hemp products. Their history dates back to 1941, where Henry Ford produced a car with a plastic body which was made from approximately 70% hemp fibres. Although the idea came about partly due to a steel shortage, tremendous benefits were revealed. The car could withstand blows ten times greater than steel without denting. It was so powerful that Ford used to swing an axe at the vehicle to show it would not be damaged. Unfortunately, the Marijuana Tax Act made production unviable and although some car parts are produced today, the full potential of hemp cars has never been realised.

The Pirate Bay Relocates to a Nuclear Bunker

Written by Ernesto

The Pirate Bay is going on a road trip through Europe, one they hope to end today in a former NATO bunker. After a move from Sweden to the Ukraine, The Pirate Bay has now arrived at CyberBunker, an ISP that can provide them with a facility that can resist a nuclear attack as well as electromagnetic pulse bombs.

After being chased by various anti-piracy groups, The Pirate Bay returned a few hours ago. "Nobody puts The Pirate Bay in a corner," they say on their frontpage, referencing Patrick Swayze's famous line in Dirty Dancing. Not in a corner, no, but what about a bunker?

Last Friday we reported that The Pirate Bay was forced to move outside of Sweden, and that the world's largest BitTorrent tracker had found a new home in the Ukraine. Unfortunately this was a short-lived solution, with TPB now moving to Cyberbunker.

CyberBunker is located in a former military nuclear warfare bunker in The Netherlands. The facility was built by NATO in the 50s to survive a nuclear war, but after the nuclear threats were over it was sold to its current owners. The bunker is now used as a webhosting data center.

The bunker is equipped with Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) shielding and Nuclear/Biological/Chemical (NBC) air filtration to guarantee that the servers they host stay up no matter what happens. As of this week it is also the new home of The Pirate Bay.

CyberBunker: The Pirate Bay's new home


According to Sven Kamphuis, one of the owners of CB3ROB/Cyberbunker, there were some initial troubles with setting up The Pirate Bay in its new location as several carriers refused to pass on the relay information after they received threats from the entertainment industry led by the Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN.

Despite these troubles the site is now accessible again in most locations, and Cyberbunker will continue to host the site and does not intend to cave in to the threats of the entertainment industry.

A brief history of what U.S. Presidents have sent to Cuba

Matt Wuerker