Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Youtube Debate

While not a regular viewer of network and cable news, I think the idea of Youtube being implemented into the presidential debates is ingenious. It allows for more freedom and greater diversity than a town hall themed debate. The one thing I don't like is CNN's rule that any question should be in the 30 second range. It's just typical of the media to condense everything into little soundbites. I have never made a video before, using Youtube, but I am thinking of asking a question for the Republican debates. I'll have to see what technology I need.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Giuliani's Princess Bride

If you have a few minutes, you should read this article on Rudy Giuliani's wife. It paints a pretty revealing picture of our possible future First Lady.

Another Iraq Veteran Shoots Himself

One side-effect of war and serving in the military that isn't covered enough are the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and there are a rising number of suicides by Iraqi War veterans to back that up. From Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell:

Press Reports: Another Apparent Iraq Vet Suicide

By Greg Mitchell

Published: July 28, 2007 11:25 AM ET updated 8:00 PM

NEW YORK One of the least covered aspects of the fallout from the Iraq war is the rising toll of suicides, both near the battlefield and back home.

Latest official figures released by the Pentagon reveal at least 116 self-inflicted fatalities in Iraq. But this does not include several dozen still under investigation, nor any of the many cases back in the U.S.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported the latest example today. It revealed that an Iraq war veteran reported missing in northern Minnesota -- and suffering from post-traumatic stress -- had been found dead.

A sheriff's deputy said that he believed the body of Noah Charles Pierce, 23, was found in the Gilbert, Minn., area but had few details.

The Mesabi Daily News described the dead man as living in nearby Mountain Iron and quoted a local law enforcement officer confirming that he had shot himself.

"Pierce, who served in Iraq and had been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder, was discovered around 9:30 p.m. Thursday," the Star Tribune reported. "Pierce, from Mountain Iron, Minn., went missing Wednesday afternoon after he sent several friends text messages that he was suicidal, the Sheriff's Office said.

"He was last seen at the house where he lives and was believed to have left in a pickup truck. He left home with a revolver and a rifle, the Sheriff's Office said."

This past January, Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman noted in the Hartford Courant that veterans advocates had found the increase of suicides in 2006 “troubling.” Steve Robinson, director of government relations for Veterans for America, told them he was particularly disturbed by suicides in the war zone because combat troops are supposed to be screened for mental health issues before they join the military, and throughout their careers.

"These people aren't the kind of people that you would think would take this step," he said.

NOTE: E&P editor Greg Mitchell has covered numerous Iraq-related suicides in the past year, including cases involving Alyssa Peterson (who objected to interrogation techniques), Col. Ted Westhusing (who had complained about contractor and soldier abuses), and Linda Michel (who died in upstate New York after medication was denied), among others.

Greg Mitchell (gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is editor of E&P. His collection of columns about the media and Iraq will be published in March.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Picking up where Falwell left off

With the death of Jerry Falwell a few months ago, I was hoping that I'd get a brief reprieve from having to read and listen to these religious fanatics. Those hopes weren't answered, however, since a reverend by the name of John Hagee has made headlines. Hagee is the founder of a group called Christians United for Israel. This group doesn't benignly support Israel, but rather focuses that support in a theological way, rather than the geopolitical kind we've come to expect. It's the belief of Hagee and the CUI that the Rapture will occur someday. That's when Jesus Christ reemerges and sends the souls of Christians up to heaven, and the rest of us are "left behind" to face a potentially ruinous fate. The "rest of us" include the Jews who live in Israel. One of the conditions for the Rapture to happen is to ensure the state of Israel. It's a little more complicated than that, possibly a lot more, but I freely admit I'm not too informed on religion.

Anyway, I'm kind of getting away from why I blogged. Hagee had this to say on NPR last year (TG is Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air):

TG: I just want to ask you one question, based on one of your sermons, and this is not about Israel -- you said after Hurricane Katrina, that it was an act of God, and you said when you violate God's will long enough, the judgment of God comes to you. Katrina is an act of God for a society that is becoming Sodom and Gomorrah re-born.

Do you still believe that Katrina is punishment from God for a society that is becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah?

JH: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.

The newspaper carried the story in our local area, that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it would was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other gay pride parades.

So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the Day of Judgment, and I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.


For those of you who follow the news closely, and in particular around 9/11, you might know that Jerry Falwell blamed America for 9/11 and said that we deserved it because we allow abortion rights and homosexuals to co-exist with us. Hagee is picking up where he left off by blaming New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. What astounds me, really beyond belief, is when the right-wingers out there say that Hillary Clinton hates America, or Michael Moore hates America, or this guy hates America, etc. Yet these people on the religious right end of the spectrum BLAME us, this country, for events like 9/11 and Katrina. Directly blame us, and say that we deserved it. Why aren't they ever accused of hating America?

The Lid Was Faulty?

A man is filing a lawsuit against Starbucks for giving him a tea that was "overly hot" and that wasn't lidded properly. Sound familiar at all? This so reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, the one where Kramer sues a coffee chain because he spilled a hot cafe latte on himself. Did this guy and his lawyer run "tests" on the lid, like Jackie Chiles did?

But in all seriousness, these kinds of lawsuits piss me off. All these do is make it easier for conservatives and pro-business politicians to pursue "tort reform" and make it harder for us to pursue legitimate courses of action against companies engaged in wrongdoing. And it says on every Starbucks cup that what's inside the cup is extremely hot.

Read about it here.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Since when does an embassy cost 600 million dollars?

Since we invaded Iraq at the behest of major corporations, that's when. There are alleged patterns of fraud and mismanagement in the construction of a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Even with allegations of fraud and deception in the recruitment of foreign laborers, who were said to be abused, forced to work in substandard conditions, and paid near slave-level wages. What I'd like to know is how some of these laborers were paid as low as $240 a month, and the project still ran up to the 600 million dollar level. There were a lot of fingers in this pie.

Read about it here

Michael Moore subpoenaed by the Bush Admin.

You'd think with all the problems Bush is having (between Iraq, and Gonzales) that one of the last things he'd be doing is to harass Michael Moore for speaking the truth about health care in the "Sicko" movie. But you'd be wrong.


BURBANK-July 26, 2007 – Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore announced that the Bush Administration has subpoenaed him in the wake of his recent trip to Cuba on the July 26 episode of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (Monday-Friday, 11:35 p.m. - 12:37 a.m. ET). "I haven't even told my own family yet." Moore began, "I was just informed when I was back there with Jay that the Bush administration has now issued a subpoena for me."

The trip was part of his new film "Sicko" which tackles the question of affordable health care in the United States. Moore, who brought 9/11 rescue workers with him on his excursion, explains the reason for his trip, saying: "Took them to Guantanamo Bay because I heard the Al Qaeda Terrorists we have in the camps there, detained, are receiving free dental, medical, eye care, the whole deal, and our own 9/11 rescue workers can't get that in New York City."

In a continued effort to help the 9/11 rescue workers, Moore stated that on August 11, the Weinstein Company will be donating 11 percent of the box office receipts from "Sicko" to "help these workers and the other workers who need help," said Moore.

Also Moore told Leno on the show how his studio asked him to cut a certain segment out of his film. "I just tell the truth in our film. (Hillary Clinton) did something very courageous 14-years ago, saying all American's should be covered. She got beat up badly for it. Now she's the second-largest recipient of health care industry money in the U.S. Senate."

Moore continued: "In fact, I don't know if I should really talk about this on national television, but you know the head of the studio that's releasing this film...Harvey Weinstein is a big supporter of Hillary Clinton. For the months leading up to the release of the film, he kept calling me every day saying, 'I want you to take that scene out of the film, attacking Hillary.' I said, 'I'm no attacking her, I'm just telling the truth.'"

Moore explained, "I'm going to go after whoever is in power, doesn't matter if they are Democrat or Republican I'm going to try to be a voice for people that don't have a voice."

The segment remains in the film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2007.

"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" is from Big Dog Productions in association with Universal Media Studios. Debbie Vickers is the executive producer.

Frappuccinos: summer's liquid cheeseburger

This goes into the "no-shit" pile, but it's still a pretty good article and a little informative too.

As for me, as a long time latte and Frappuccino drinker, I'm retreating to Starbucks' iced coffee. It's not nearly as fattening, and combined with a double shot of espresso, keeps me alert for the day.

Iraqi Lawmakers Take Their Time

One of our key reasons for invading Iraq was to institute a democracy, American-style. Judging from this article, thus far, we're succeeding beyond our wildest dreams.

Seriously, does this remind you of a certain branch of our government? Not coming to work, going on vacations, being paid a handsome salary (plus money for bodyguards!) And when you do come to work, discuss mundane, trivial matters, only to delay a vote on them until next time.

Second Life

I just read another article about the virtual community known as Second Life, and I'm thinking about joining it. I just feel there are so many possibilities, and this article shows how some people have taken advantage of it. Some of the stories are especially inspiring. Read about it here

Imagine having one hour of electricity a day

That's the situation in Baghdad. A very hot climate, where temperatures this time of year are regularly in the 110--130 degree range, and there is an average of one to two hours of electricity a day. To try to obscure this not-so-great fact, the administration and the State Department has started to report the daily electrical output of Iraq as a whole (a not-much better 5 to 6 hours of electricity a day) rather than Baghdad. Where I am, I think it's been a fairly mild summer so far, and I still can't resist turning on my air conditioner now and again. Imagine being in a climate like this, and not having that option. I'd probably go insane.

Read a good article about this here.

Kiefer Sutherland PSA on global warming

Kiefer Sutherland, the star of "24", has done a PSA on the issue of global warming. He has also added, as I've already reported here, that this season, "24" will be making various changes on the production of the show, to lower its carbon footprint. You can view the clip, as well as get more information, by going to www.fox.com/24. As Kiefer says, "do it now...while there's still time."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Inside the Surge, Part II

The 2nd part of the mini-documentary from Sean Smith and Guardian. Again, this is essential viewing for all. See it here

Inside the Surge in Iraq

This is a very graphic, shocking must-see video of what's happening in Iraq now, courtesy of the Guardian. Again, to get as clear a picture of Iraq as you can, see this video.

This video is in 2 parts, and I will post the 2nd part after I see it, which I will shortly. This video captures perfectly the outrage of the Iraqis, and the frustration of U.S. troops. You can really sympathize with both of these groups, no matter if you take a side or not. Think of the countless lives that have been either ended or put in a great state of upheaval, all because an imbecile chose to invade this country.

I finally got past this bitch of a level in Scarface

I guess it wasn't really that tough, I just had a bad strategy. In the level Nacho's Tanker, you land on a huge tanker and have to defuse some bombs and shoot it out with a shitload of thugs. I kept taking this one route through the ship, and I kept getting killed. But today, I took the other way, and the one bomb was right there, and as soon as I defused it, most of the enemies in that area disappeared. Today, luck was on my side, and I was finally able to wipe out the captain of the ship and after I eliminated the foreman and a few other thugs at the docks, I was all set. I'm finally back in Miami, and can buy more land and sell more drugs.

If I haven't said it before, if you like GTA-type games, buy Scarface for Playstation 2 or XBox. Definitely worth every penny. It's also out for the Wii, but I don't know how its controls work with it.

Gospel 2.0: Jesuits move into Second Life

I'm not so much interested in this article for the religious aspect of it (although a religious sect trying to mark their territory in a virtual universe is interesting) as in the concept of a virtual universe itself. I've known of such things, but I just Wiki'ed Second Life, and it sounds really interesting. It sounds a lot like one of my favorite novels, "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson. The only thing goofy is that you can pay for property (like a house) with real dollars. Granted, a U.S. dollar is worth around 276 virtual dollars, but I still find it funny. Can you take out a virtual mortgage? Do you have virtual insurance? But it sounds like it has a lot of possibilities, I might well check it out. In the meantime, read this article here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hey Sports Fans

This is another excellent blog from Contemplation of Preponderance, whose link you could find to the right of your screen. Here is the blog, followed by my response:

Hey Sports Fans

I'm going to keep this short and simple. I don't understand why the baseball people continue to tiptoe around Barry Bonds, while the suspected use of steroids makes the news. I just don't understand how someone can skirt the issue while challenging the standing records made by men that really achieved their accomplishments by pure stamina and strength. It makes me so sad that the record of Babe Ruth is supposedly or allegedly beaten and Hank Aaron's is about to be surpassed or at least challenged. Why is it, that Barry Bond's personal medication habits are continually in media question, yet unproven, while he continues to "beat" the records set by men that literally accomplished what they did, by pure human endurance and discipline? I heard a quote on the radio from one of the baseball "officials" that they are not there to judge. Now, how is it that Vick has been "invited" to not attend training camp? Vick is making the news everywhere, and although he has not been found guilty, I would hardly say he is presumed innocent.
Can anyone explain what is happening here, and what is happening in the professional sports arena? Barry Bonds is presumed innocent and awarded, until proven guilty. Michael Vick has been tried by public opinion without a jury.
I am not advocating animal abuse, it is a horrible thing. But I am also not willing to condone physical self-abuse. If sports figures are going to be held to account or esteemed to be above accountability, by whim, who is mandating the legal proceedings?
Remember, until the jury says "guilty" the charges are referred to as allegations, regardless of everyone's presumed opinion or in spite of the evidence. Whereas testing for steroids have resulted in one more way to treat everyone as potential drug abusers, except the one that caused all this stir. It would seem a presumption of guilt, regardless, for all those that would follow Barry Bonds, yet the baseball commission cannot judge him . . .
know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of G~d, and ye are not your own? New Testament


Jeff said...

Excellent post as always and I agree with you one hundred percent. I was an avid baseball fan until I reached 15 years of age, that's when the strike happened and the World Series was canceled. To me, that was a sacrelige, but with time, I might have grown out of it. Then more changes came along that I didn't care for, and the steroid scandal just took the cake. This didn't begin with Bonds. Look back to '98, when not one but two players broke Maris's (or Ruth's depending on how you look at it) single-season HR record. I was naive enough that at the time, I thought the BALL was juiced rather than the players.

While my family are still big fans, the game of baseball has been tainted beyond redemption for me personally.

I think the reason why the Vick scandal has elicited such an outrage is because you don't have to be a sports fan to be shocked and provoked by animal cruelty. Whereas if you aren't a sports fan (or baseball as in this particular example), a few athletes juicing up and breaking records illegitimately isn't going to be a big issue to you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Starbucks slips; lattes rise

I noticed this is my 2nd Starbucks-related post in a row. A rich irony, that. I'm sure most of you have heard this, but I'm posting it anyway, the price of Starbucks coffee, including lattes and Frappuccinos, is going up again for the 2nd time in a year. This didn't surprise me, when you factor in the high increase in milk prices. I'll still be going to Starbucks (if anything, I've been going more than usual ever since I found myself out of work) but it'll be less lattes and Frappuccinos, and more regular and iced coffee. Even with the price increase, I'll probably save over 2 dollars each trip.

Read about it here.

LOL, I love the Onion

BTW, I've never had an experience where I remotely felt a barista was flirting with me. From The Onion:

Sources: Barista Not Actually Flirting With You

July 20, 2007 | Issue 43•29

SAN FRANCISCO—Though she greets you every morning with a smile, sometimes chats with you, and makes sure the chocolate syrup is evenly distributed throughout your mocha, Starbucks barista Molly Sopel is in truth not flirting with you, and is instead simply a pleasant person and conscientious employee, coffeeshop sources reported Monday.

"The best part about Molly is that she laughs and talks with everyone," said manager Mike Dezort, who confirmed that Sopel asks if you want room for milk as a courtesy, and not because of the physical attraction you think exists between the two of you. "I always overhear her calling customers sweetie, which people seem to like."

A Starbucks regular who frequently watches you order from Sopel is reportedly "shocked" that you still haven't realized that she only calls you by your first name when you pay with your debit card.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Juan Cole on Al-Qaeda

A very good piece on Salon.com by the always informative (and correct) Juan Cole. The most interesting piece in the War on Terror, by far IMO, are the events in Pakistan. For over 5 years, Musharraf, Pakistan's dictator (American-supported), has been walking a tightrope between appeasing the Bush administration and not being too favorable to the point where it'd lead to a backlash by Pakistan's large Islamic population (including those in the tribal areas). Our attention remains on Iraq, at the risk of ignoring the larger issue of Al-Qaeda's near-total resurgence in this area.

But Cole puts this far better than I ever could, read about it here.

I'm now on Facebook

I'm still slowly marching to the end of the 2000 era, so it's taken me a long time to adapt. I just signed up for Myspace last year, I think. But I'm now on Facebook too. Check it out here

No need to fear, Underdog is here :)

I just came back from Target, and saw that the show Underdog has been released on DVD. I kind of don't like what they're doing with these old-style cartoons. I remember when Rocky and Bullwinkle was being released on DVD, and they'd release them by the season, so you were getting everything. But with these "best-of" sets, you have to expect it to be more of a mishmash. That's what I'm expecting here, but I still bought it. These companies probably release these small DVD's (this is only 2 hours) and see how they'll sell before releasing the season. The problem is that the hardcore fans (the only ones likely to buy it) will hold out for the seasonal-length DVD's. So it's kind of a big Catch-22.

But I bought it anyway, only because I'm just an overgrown kid at heart and I loved Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo when I was a kid. I remember as a kid, I'd wake up early on the weekends, like 6:30, because that's when Channel 7 had the old-time shows like Tennessee Tuxedo and King Leonardo. To me, those were the best, as it was the late 80's, early 90's and cartoons were going through a huge creative spiel. And it was only 10 bucks, so I guess you can't go wrong.

Barack Obama makes a bold political stance

I haven't been following the campaigns too closely, but on Monday night, Barack Obama made an interesting, but controversial statement that he'd meet unconditionally with leaders of so-called rogue states like Cuba if he were elected president. I don't think anything will get me to the voting booth next year, but I think that's a fresh approach to foreign policy, in contrast to the stale, isolationist policies of not only Bush, but probably dating back to Carter and Reagan. I won't get into a long spiel, but just look at Cuba. For over 40 years, there's been an economic and political blockade of the country, and for what? Castro's been in power all this time, if anything, our policy has only entrenched him, and Cuba's in relative poverty. The only reason this policy has endured for so long is because of the right-wing anti-Castro bloc in Miami, who has wielded their political power in election time. We need a major candidate who'll stand up to these fruitcakes and talk truth, even if it means risking a few votes. I hope Obama can stay the course on this one.

Shame and Shoplifting at Walmart

There is a very good article in Business Week about the rising shrinkage at large stores like Walmart. Shrinkage is basically loss of inventory from employee and customer theft. One of the ways this is being combatted, in one small Alabama town, is to "shame" the perpetuator rather than fine or jail him or her. As punishment, the thief has to stand outside Walmart, or another public building, wearing a big sign that says something like "I'm a thief, I stole from Walmart."

This is a really innovative approach, and one I can see working. For a lot of crooks who don't face a lot of jailtime for what they do, I find that publicly exposing them is often more effective. Take Dateline and the "To Catch a Predator" segments. These guys meet children for sex, and they're apprehended by the police. The jailtime they end up serving usually isn't that much, it's usually a couple of years at most. But the fact that they were exposed on national television, along with being a Registered Sex Offender for life, is a much more lasting punishment.

I managed a retail store for three years, I caught some people stealing, and I'm sure there were others who were able to steal and get away with it. So I loathe thiefs, they're probably near the bottom of my personal morality totem pole. If you want something, you buy it. You don't steal. If you don't have the money, too fuckin' bad. You go without. Law enforcement and the legal system don't take theft seriously enough. I hear that in the Koran, and under some Muslim law, the penalty of stealing is punishable by having one of your hands cut off. To me, that's even better. But no, we're too "civilized" for that, we have to treat these scum like they're decent human beings.

Anyway, read this article from Business Week: http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jul2007/db20070723_644443.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

Monday, July 23, 2007

Paul Krugman column on our Internet inferiority

Paul Krugman, an economist who writes a column for the New York Times (and a national treasure), wrote this really good one about the superiority of Internet service in other nations such as France and Japan, while ours is falling behind due to a lack of regulation. Since Bush's (s)election, the big telecommunications companies have been able to run amok and set whatever prices they wish, without providing service. So, in my community for example, there are a lot of commercials for Cablevision IO (which has TV, phone, and Internet) in one package, and Verizon, which has a similar setup. Not much competition for high-speed Internet, is it? Compare that to a country like France, where regulation has been PROMOTING competition, which means more choices, better service, and faster load times than we can get here.

Read about it here:


Help ADE Survive

I had the pleasure of coming across a blog recently that is very detailed, full of information, opinionated, and updated regularly. I actually referenced it in my last blog. It's the Another Day in the Empire blog. Unfortunately, it's also facing financial troubles, as the creator has said he might have no choice but to limit the blogs or shut down the site altogether. I just donated five dollars. So please, check out the site, and if you like it, please donate whatever you can, even if it's just a buck.

Here's the site: http://kurtnimmo.com. There's a Paypal link right on the homepage.

IPhone also a snoop for the government?

This blog from Another Day in the Empire is very interesting and points to further controversy and an invasion of privacy if you're using an IPhone:

iPhone: NSA iSnoop Device?
Thursday July 19th 2007, 12:20 pm

According to a Russian hacker team called “web-hack,” Apple’s much heralded and overly hyped iPhone contains “a built-in function which sends all data from an iPhone to a specified web-server. Contacts from a phonebook, SMS, recent calls, history of Safari browser” can be hijacked, as the VS iPhone blog reports.

In a white paper, according to the blog, the Russians indicate a possible “debug feature or a built-in backdoor module for some governmental structures,” i.e., the National Security Agency, the lead governmental structure responsible for violating en masse the constitutional rights of Americans.

Of course, it helps that “Apple has chosen AT&T, the best and most popular carrier in the US with over 62 million subscribers, to be Apple’s exclusive carrier partner for iPhone in the United States,” as the AT&T website boasts. As we know, the telecom leviathan illegally collaborated with the NSA to break the law.

“AT&T violated the law, and the rights of its customers, by allowing and assisting with the illegal wiretapping and data-mining. The government’s spying program on ordinary Americans would not be possible without AT&T collaborating in violating your privacy,” explains an Electronic Frontier Foundation FAQ. “EFF alleges that under the NSA domestic spying program, major telecommunications companies—and AT&T specifically—gave the NSA direct access to their vast databases of communications records, including information about whom their customers have phoned or emailed with in the past. EFF alleges that AT&T, in addition to allowing the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and gave the government unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte ‘Daytona’ database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.”

“The essential hardware elements of a (Total Information Awareness)-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into ‘real world’ telecommunications offices,” Wired News reported former AT&T technician Mark Klein as writing. According to Klein and a report published by the New York Times, the NSA-AT&T “Orwellian project… is vastly bigger” than previously figured “and was directly authorized by President Bush, as he himself has now admitted, in flagrant violation of specific statutes and constitutional protections for civil liberties.” In the meantime, Bush has signed a number of executive orders essentially granting himself the power of a Roman Magister Populi, a dictatorial master over the commoners.

Considering all of this, it makes perfect sense for the Apple iPhone to double as an NSA iSnoop device.

“Last year, it was discovered that AT&T has been secretly spying on Americans for the government,” notes Adam Frucci for the Gizmodo blog. “Maybe it still is. Then, just recently, it announced that it planned to spy on Internet surfers yet again, looking for pirated media files, presumably to the delight of the RIAA and MPAA. If you don’t want to get spied on and want to switch ISPs, guess what? Depending on where you live, you might not have any other options. And if AT&T snoops on all data passing through its network, most US Internet users will be affected, not just AT&T customers. It runs a significant amount of the backbone infrastructure of the Internet, leaving little traffic outside its grasp.”

But never mind. Apple’s iPhone is so cool and trendy a lot of buyers and potential buyers will shrug off the fact the device is—if the Russian hackers who reverse engineered the gadget are correct—a custom-made snoop device that routes your personal data right to an NSA Cray super computer.

Hackers break into the IPhone.

Maybe the trend-setters should have held on to their Blackberries and Sidekicks a little while longer. The days of Apple being known for their security and near-invulnerability to hackers might have come to an end. From the NY Times:

July 23, 2007

IPhone Flaw Lets Hackers Take Over, Security Firm Says

A team of computer security consultants say they have found a flaw in Apple’s wildly popular iPhone that allows them to take control of the device.

The researchers, working for Independent Security Evaluators, a company that tests its clients’ computer security by hacking it, said that they could take control of iPhones through a WiFi connection or by tricking users into going to a Web site that contains malicious code. The hack, the first reported, allowed them to tap the wealth of personal information the phones contain.

Although Apple built considerable security measures into its device, said Charles A. Miller, the principal security analyst for the firm, “Once you did manage to find a hole, you were in complete control.” The firm, based in Baltimore, alerted Apple about the vulnerability this week and recommended a software patch that could solve the problem.

A spokeswoman for Apple, Lynn Fox, said, “Apple takes security very seriously and has a great track record of addressing potential vulnerabilities before they can affect users.”

“We’re looking into the report submitted by I.S.E. and always welcome feedback on how to improve our security,” she said.

There is no evidence that this flaw had been exploited or that users had been affected.

Dr. Miller, a former employee of the National Security Agency who has a doctorate in computer science, demonstrated the hack to a reporter by using his iPhone’s Web browser to visit a Web site of his own design.

Once he was there, the site injected a bit of code into the iPhone that then took over the phone. The phone promptly followed instructions to transmit a set of files to the attacking computer that included recent text messages — including one that had been sent to the reporter’s cellphone moments before — as well as telephone contacts and e-mail addresses.

“We can get any file we want,” he said. Potentially, he added, the attack could be used to program the phone to make calls, running up large bills or even turning it into a portable bugging device.

Steven M. Bellovin, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, said, “This looks like a very genuine hack.” Mr. Bellovin, who was for many years a computer security expert at AT&T Labs Research, said the vulnerability of the iPhone was an inevitable result of the long-anticipated convergence of computing and telephony.

“We’ve been hearing for a few years now that viruses and worms were going to be a problem on cellphones as they became a little more powerful, and we’re there,” he said. The iPhone is a full-fledged computer, he noted, “and sure enough, it’s got computer-grade problems.”

He said he suspected that phones based on the Windows mobile operating system would be similarly “attackable,” though he had not yet heard of any attacks.

“It’s not the end of the world; it’s not the end of the iPhone,” he said, any more than the regular revelations of vulnerabilities in computer browser software have killed off computing. “It is a sign that you cannot let down your guard. It is a sign that we need to build software and systems better.”

Details on the vulnerability, but not a step-by-step guide to hacking the phone, can be found at www.exploitingiphone.com, which the researchers said would be unveiled today.

Hackers around the world have been trying to unveil the secrets of the iPhone since its release last month; most have focused their efforts on unlocking the phone from its sole wireless provider, AT&T, and getting unauthorized programs to run on it. The iPhone is a closed system that cannot accept outside programs and can be used only with the AT&T wireless network.

Some of those hackers have posted bulletins of their progress on the Web. A posting went up on Friday that a hacker going by the name of “Nightwatch” had created and started an independent program on the phone.

The Independent Security Evaluators researchers were able to crack the phone’s software in a week, said Aviel D. Rubin, the firm’s founder and the technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Rubin, who bought an iPhone the day after the cellphone was released, said in an interview that he had approached three colleagues, Dr. Miller, Joshua Mason and Jake Honoroff, and offered them an enticing prize if they would try to crack the iPhone. “I told the guys I would buy them iPhones.”

Dr. Miller had already been exploring weaknesses in the computer versions of Safari, Apple’s Web browser, and was planning to reveal that vulnerability, a relatively common kind of flaw known as a buffer overflow, at the Black Hat computer security conference next month. Dr. Miller instantly thought to see whether the phone, which uses a version of Safari, would be as vulnerable.

Mr. Rubin said the research was not intended to show that the iPhone was necessarily more vulnerable to hacking than other phones, or that Apple products were less secure than those from other companies. “Anything as complex as a computer — which is what this phone is — is going to have vulnerabilities,” he said.

There are far more viruses, worms and other malicious software affecting Windows systems than Apple systems. But Mr. Rubin said that Apple products have drawn fewer attacks because the computers have fewer users, and hackers reach for the greatest impact.

“Windows gets hacked all the time not because it is more insecure than Apple, but because 95 percent of computer users are on Windows,” he said. “The other 5 percent have enjoyed a honeymoon that will eventually come to an end.”

The iPhone is becoming a victim of its own success, he said. “The irony is that the more popular something is, the more insecure it becomes, because popularity paints a large target on its back.”

Mr. Rubin said his goal was to discover vulnerabilities and warn of them so that companies would strengthen their products and consumers would not be lulled into thinking that the technology they use was completely secure.

Mr. Rubin said, “I will think twice before getting on a random public WiFi network now,” but his overall opinion of the phone has not changed.

“You’d have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands to get it away from me,” he said.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Dangerous flood strike Britain

I just read of what's going on in Britain and the River Thames, and it reminded me immediately of a 1992 film called "Split Second" with Rutger Hauer that I saw not too long ago. It's a B movie (but a damned good one) about a cop in near-future London who's chasing down a monster who killed his partner. I actually think it took place in 2007 or 2008, and at that time, London is beset with the effects of global warming; the streets are flooded. It's a cheap movie, so not a lot of money was put towards showing extensive effects, but you got the point. It's funny, because I think it might have been the first movie to mention global warming, and I don't think it was even an apple in most peoples' eyes at that time. Al Gore was talking about climate change even then, he'd written the "Earth in the Balance" book, but no one was listening to him.

"24" to be first show that addresses global warming.

From Zap2it.com:

Cherry Jones Elected '24' President

Emmy-winning drama will also fight climate change this season


July 22 2007

Two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones will take up residence in the White House" for the seventh season of "24."

FOX offers very little information about Jones' role in the show, except to say that when "24" returns in January, she'll be playing President Allison Taylor.

After a sixth season that saw "24" go from outstanding drama Emmy winner to out of the outstanding drama field, the show has promised at least a partial modification, though its one-episode-one-hour semi-real time format will remain unchanged.

Previous "24" presidents have included Dennis Haysbert's David Palmer, Geoffrey Pierson's John Keeler, Gregory Itzin's Charles Logan and D.B. Woodside's Wayne Palmer.

A 1995 Tony winner for "The Heiress" and 2005 winner for "Doubt," Jones is perhaps best known for her appearances in the M. Night Shyamalan films "Signs" and "The Village." Her most recent TV credits include "Clubhouse" and an appearance on "The West Wing."

As part of FOX's Sunday (July 22) presentation to the Television Critics Association, the network also made an extensive announcement saying that "24" is making a commitment to fighting climate change. It's hoped that "24" will make a variety of production changes through the season culminating in an entirely "carbon neutral" season season.

"We care deeply about this issue at '24,' and we wanted to do our own small part to be part of the solution," says executive producer Howard Gordon. "We looked at how we produce the show, and realized that there were some substantive changes we could implement which would make a real difference. But even more importantly, we hope to inspire our audience to look at what they can do in their own lives to help stem global warming. We think this will be the beginning of a conversation with our millions of viewers that will hopefully inspire them to take action around the world."

No, Jack Bauer won't spend his season fighting the hole in the ozone and driving around in a Prius, but a press release on the shift does say that "when appropriate" the next season will be "incorporating the issue of global warming and the importance of carbon emission reduction into storylines."

In addition, the production set will be rewired to use electric, rather than diesel-generate, power. All on-stage production activities will be shifted to "green power," the production fleet will integrate fuel-saving and low-emission hybrid vehicles and Kiefer Sutherland and other cast members will appear in a number of PSAs.


This is great news. I'm not that happy that we're having yet ANOTHER president on the show (This will be the 5th in the last 4 seasons, whereas there was just one for the first 3). But hopefully Cherry Jones (who I don't know that well, I did see "The Village" but don't remember her being in there) will do a solid job.

But, to me, that isn't the big news. The big news is that "24" is the first show, to my knowledge at least, that is addressing the issue of global warming, both in its production methods and possibly mentioning it (or even making it a key plotline) in the show itself. This is really impressive; I knew this wasn't my favorite show on the planet for nothing. But it is also surprising. "24", while not politically biased, was created by people who are pretty conservative. That, along with "24's" production style (lots of explosions and action), makes it an eye-opener.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of a trend, and "24" is carrying the torch. :)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

171 Starbucks in 24 Hours

Some guy was insane enough to hit every Starbucks store in Manhattan in 24 hours. And he's made this entertaining video to document it. Click on the link.


The Kill Point

I have a recommendation for you. Summer's usually pretty slow in TV land, but if there is one show you have to watch, make it "The Kill Point". It comes on Spike TV Sundays at 9 PM (it's repeating right now and probably during the week). It's basically about a bank robbery conducted by a band of veterans who served in Iraq that goes horribly awry, and they've taken the bank hostage. A hostage negotiator (Donnie Wahlberg) is trying to bargain with the ringleader (John Leguizamo). Both are pretty complex characters that play off each other very well. The only other person I recognized is Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from the "Saw" movies, as well as Peter Kingsley from Season 2 of "24"). He plays a businessman whose daughter is one of the hostages, and who is using his influence to determine who makes the tactical decisions among the police. So far, it reminds me of "Dog Day Afternoon", "The Negotiator", and "Inside Man." So on the surface, it's something most of us has probably seen before. But it's an 8 hour miniseries, so there's a lot more time for the plot to breathe and character development. There have already been a couple of twists towards the end, so I already am eagerly awaiting the next episode. So if you're a fan of action or caper stories, you should watch this.

TV Interview with an admittedly illegal immigrant

This is an interesting read, from the Third Rail blog:

Sunday, July 22, 2007

TV Interview with an admittedly illegal immigrant

Here is a REAL INTERVIEW with an illegal Mexican at a protest march in Texas.

Trying to reason with an Illegal Mexican!

This is good! Below is a good example of a discussion with a master of circular logic. Don't be logical, don't respect the truth or your adversary, just say what you think makes a new case when the previous case gets too difficult to defend. On the streets of downtown Houston, May 1, 2006.
Jim Moore reporting for a Houston TV station:

Jim: Juan, I see that you and thousands of other protesters are marching in the streets to demonstrate for your cause. Exactly what is your cause and what do you expect to accomplish by this protest?

Juan: We want our rights. We will show you how powerful we are. We will bring Houston to its knees!

Jim: What rights?

Juan: Our right to live here...legally. Our right to get all the benefits you get.

Jim: When did you come to the United States?

Juan: Six years ago. I crossed over the border at night with seven other friends.

Jim: Why did you come?

Juan: For work. I can earn as much in a month as I could in a year in Mexico. Besides, I get free health care, our Mexican children can go to school free, if I lose my job I will get Welfare, and someday I will have the Social Security. Nothing like that in Mexico!

Jim: Did you feel badly about breaking our immigration laws when you came?

Juan: No! Why should I feel bad? I have a right to be here. I have a right to amnesty. I paid lots of money for my Social Security and Green Cards.

Jim: How did you acquire those documents?

Juan: From a guy in Dallas. He charged me a lot of money too.

Jim: Did you know that those documents were forged?

Juan: It is of no matter. I have a right to be here and work.

Jim: What is the "right" you speak of?

Juan: The right of all Aliens. It is found in your Constitution. Read it!

Jim: I have read it, but I do not remember it saying anything about rights for Aliens.

Juan: It is in that part where it says that all men have Alien rights, like the right to pursue happiness. I wasn't happy in Mexico, so I came here.

Jim: I think you are referring to the declaration of Independence and that document speaks to unalienable rights .. Not Alien rights.

Juan: Whatever.

Jim: Since you are demanding to become an American citizen, why then are you carrying a Mexican Flag?

Juan: Because I am Mexican.

Jim: But you said you want to be given amnesty ... to become a US citizen.

Juan: No. This is not what we want. This is our country, a part of Mexico that you Gringos stole from us. We want it returned to its rightful owner.

Jim: Juan, you are standing in Texas. After wining the war with Mexico, Texas became a Republic, and later Texans voted to join the USA. It was not stolen from Mexico.

Juan: That is a Gringo lie. Texas was stolen. So was California, New Mexico and Arizona. It is just like all the other stuff you Gringos steal, like oil and babies. You are a country of thieves.

Jim: Babies? You think we steal babies?

Juan: Sure. Like from Korea and Vietnam and China. I see them all over the place. You let all these foreigners in, but try to keep us Mexicans out. How is this fair?

Jim: So, you really don't want to become an American citizen then.

Juan: I just want my rights! Everyone has a right to live, work, and speak their native language wherever and whenever they please. That's another thing we demand. All signs and official documents should be in Spanish . Teachers must teach in Spanish. Soon, more people here in Houston will speak Spanish than English. It is our right!

Jim: If I were to cross over the border into Mexico without proper documentation, what rights would I have there?

Juan: None. You would probably go to jail, but that's different.

Jim: How is it different? You said everyone has the right to live wherever they please.

Juan: You Gringos are a bunch of land grabbing thieves. Now you want Mexico too? Mexico has its rights. You Gringos have no rights in Mexico. Why would you want to go there anyway? There is no free medical service, schools, or welfare there for foreigners such as you. You cannot even own land in my country. Stay in the country of your birth.

Jim: I can see that there is no way that we can agree on this issue. Thank you for your comments.

Juan: Viva Mexico!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What I'm Doing

I like being able to have some time to myself, rather than working every day, but I still miss working, and I miss the money too. I've been applying to at least one or two jobs pretty much every day, and hopefully it'll bear fruit soon. I had an interview on Thursday with a maintenance subcontractor that I felt went very well. I have to call back on Monday to see if a decision's been made.

I've been in and out of what I'd call a depressed mood. As burned out as I was with my job, and the issues I've had with it, I wasn't ready to leave yet. There were quite a few people whose hands I would have liked to have shaken and to have said goodbye to, but I wasn't able to do that. In discussions with my boss, he made it sound like I contributed nothing to the business, while I worked there six days a week for most of the three years I was there and always came in early whenever I was needed. A co-worker who I mostly got along with fine, (we had a few scrapes but got past them), and was really nice and thoughtful a lot of the time, was apparently feeding information back to my boss, some of it false, about what I was doing at work. So I feel some betrayal. Working at a small, family-owned business does have its perks. But when you're an outsider, and you have problems with someone you work with, it's really a no-win situation. It doesn't matter how often you go out of your way, how many favors you do.

It being a Saturday, I used it as an excuse to relax a little. I finally got some game-playing time in; if anything, I've spent less time gaming this week than when I was working. I made some serious headway in Ape Escape (I love that game), as well as Final Fantasy 3. I'm also planning to do some volunteer work in the near-future. I tried looking for opportunities nearby, but all there really are, are a lot of fundraisers for various forms of cancer and stuff like that. Which is great, but it doesn't really seem like my bag. I want something more direct. So I went on Craig's List and looked up their NYC section. There's a group that has a hotline for people who are depressed, suicidal, or just having a bad day. They're looking for crisis counselors and that seems like it's right up my alley. I was depressed a lot when I was younger, and always kept it bottled in. In hindsight, that was a mistake, and I think I can be of help to others facing similar or other problems.

Anyway, thanks for reading. In the meantime, onward!

TCAP Marathon tonight!

Tonight, starting at 6 PM, MSNBC is having an all-night To Catch a Predator marathon. Oh man, this is awesome. Hours and hours of seeing these sick, twisted dudes get the justice they deserve. And it's knee-slapping funny, too. So today's a good day to not have a job, since I'd have been at work till 9 tonight. So, again, tonight, 6 PM on MSNBC.

Friday, July 20, 2007

NBC Sued By Sister of Predator Suicide Victim

From IMDB:

NBC is being slapped with a $100-million lawsuit filed by the sister of Louis "Bill" Conradt, the chief felony assistant district attorney for Rockwall County, TX, who committed suicide when Murphy, TX police officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly soliciting sex from a decoy working for NBC's Dateline and posing as a 13-year-old boy. "NBC was responsible for his death," Patricia Conradt's lawyer, Bruce Baron, told the New York Post. "They conducted their sting operation and intentionally and with negligence sensationalized the situation." Critics of the Dateline "To Catch a Predator" series have been critical of the program's apparent efforts to lure men who otherwise might be reluctant to act out sexual fantasies. In a statement, NBC said that it intends to defend itself against the lawsuit, "as we believe the claims are completely without merit."

Believe it or not, there are quite a number of apologists for these sickos who appear on Dateline's series of "To Catch a Predator" specials. Just go to imdb.com, type in Dateline NBC, and scroll down to where the message board is. They think that online predators are some kind of "bogeyman" who doesn't really exist, and that Perverted Justice, Dateline NBC, and the viewers are acting as some kind of "judicial branch" in filming these sting operations and embaressing these guys.

The latest is the sister of this assistant district attorney. Bill Conradt was an ADA in Texas who met a 13 year old boy (in reality, a Perverted Justice volunteer posing as one) online and began to speak to him in explicit terms about sex, and also sent him pornographic pictures. As all PJ volunteers do when they're conducting a sting with the aid of police, they arranged a day and place for Conradt to meet them. Conradt didn't show, but what he said and did with the boy online was still a crime under Texas law. So the police came to his home to arrest him, but he killed himself by the time they got through the door.

Murphy, TX is already infamous for dismissing the charges against all the predators caught in the sting operation. They claimed PJ was unwilling to come forward with the evidence or to testify, which is full of shit considering the record PJ has. Now, one of their own is suing NBC for 100 million dollars. How is NBC remotely responsible for his death? As far as we know, Conradt didn't even know NBC was in the neighborhood when he killed himself. He took his life because he was about to get brought in for committing felony offenses, and that his career was likely over. How many predators on TCAP do you see who say something like "shoot me in the head" when approached by Hansen or the police? They realize the gravity of the situation they're in and that it'll have lifelong consequences. The only person responible for Bill Conradt taking his own life, was Bill Conradt.

I don't see how NBC sensationalized his death in any way. And these men aren't "lured in", as this article says. PJ volunteers put up Myspace profiles or email accounts of people who are 13 or 14. These predators instant message and email them, and it's often not long before the conversation turns to sex, on the PREDATOR'S initative. PJ has very little margin of error, since if a case can be proven that they entrap these guys, it'll be thrown out of court. PJ has a great track record, and they haven't gotten it by playing fast and loose.

At best, the predator sympathizers want to wait until the pervert's dick is actually in the child before taking action, and at worst, they're predators themselves, although not as careless and dumb as the ones who appear on NBC. Conradt's sister should be ashamed of herself. I sympathize with her loss, but she should realize that her brother had issues and he needed help, rather than trying to blame NBC.


I saw "Sicko" on Tuesday, but haven't been able to post about it until now. Every American must see this film, it's really that simple. I'm going to give my thoughts on it, so it will include spoilers. If you don't want that, don't read any further


So far, this has my vote for "Film of the Year". I've liked all of Moore's films, but I think this could be his best, even beating out "Roger and Me". This could be for a lot of reasons, including the most obvious fact: that our health care system is desperately broken. Rather than explore a mass of theories, Moore goes the Ockham's Razor route (Ockman's Razor being the theory that the simplest solution is often the right one) and blames it on the fact that our health care system, unlike most of the western world, is a system based on profit. The health insurance companies that run our system are parts of corporations, and like any corporation, their sole purpose is to make a profit for their shareholders. Ensuring that everyone who is insured gets the care that they deserve would mean that the corporations won't make a profit, so they deny care (at a frightening rate) and even give bonuses and incentives to physicians who cut corners on caring for their patients.
As Moore makes clear at the beginning of "Sicko", this movie isn't about the 50 million Americans without health insurance. I'm sure that merits a film in and of itself. But "Sicko" deals with us 250 million people who are insured. So that means we're in paradise, right? Wrong. The film shows real-life examples of people who came down with serious health problems, where paying for deductibles, co-pays, and their monthly prenimums possibly rising as a result of their being sick, led to endless suffering. An amusing (but scary) part comes near the beginning, where Moore lists the health conditions that lead to an insurance company denying or cancelling your service to John Williams' theme of Star Wars. The list is almost endless. An example of how ridculous and money-hungry these companies are come when a young woman is talking about how she was charged for her ambulance ride to the hospital because she didn't "pre-authorize" it. She says, "Was I supposed to authorize it when I was out cold on the pavement? Or after I got to the hospital?"

The first part of the film deals with these horror stories, as well as the HMOs' and drug companies' propensity to make a profit, at the expense of caring for their patients. Moore shows the members of Congress, as well as Bush, and has a nice comic balloon above each of their heads, which shows how much the HMO industry has given them in campaign contributions. One noteworthy example is the Congressman Billy Tauzin who leads the charge to "reform" Medicare and put in a prescription drug plan that is run by the insurance industry. He says repeatedly, "No one loves their mother more than I do. All of us Republicans love our parents." Moore points out, "I'm sure he does love his mother. He just doesn't love the rest of our mothers as much." Shortly after the bill was passed, Tauzin quit Congress to take a job with yes... a major health insurance company as their CEO.

The second part of the film has Moore going to different countries with universal health insurance, including Canada, Britain and France. It's funny to see Moore talk to patients and doctors and bring up things like "where do you pay the bill", or "how much did it cost you to get looked at today?" They look at him with the same dumb expression on their faces. The experience of walking into a healthcare facility and the first thing being said to them is "give me your money" or "where's your insurance card", is alien to them. Moore also does a good job of showing that the bogeyman of "socialized medicine" limits your care and means long waits in the waiting room, is just that, a bogeyman. This bogeyman, incidientally, describes OUR OWN system rather than Canada or France's. I hope to pay off my loans, and then afterwards, try to move to Canada (as soon as I get a job, of course).

In the final minutes, and the most moving, Moore takes 9/11 rescue workers among others, to Gitmo for health care. He shows how the "evildoers" behind 9/11 and Al-Qaeda get free health care at Gitmo, he just wanted the same for some of the people who came to our aid on 9/11 but weren't being helped. After no response, he goes to the Cuban mainland. He goes to a doctor who vows to help each person to the best of his ability. One woman cries and thanks him, saying that it's wonderful to not have to pay. Truthfully, I almost cried, I was deeply moved that even a country like Cuba can take better care of U.S. citizens than the U.S. itself could. As they leave Cuba, a group of Cuban firemen stand at attention and give their thanks and honor to the rescue workers. I mean, this is Cuba, a country whose people have every reason to hate us, and they're reaching out to the rescue workers. It was really incredible.

So, again, please see this movie. Chances are if you're reading this, you probably won't have to, since as with all Moore's movies, they're best suited for the people who don't really know what time it is. But you should see it anyway, nonetheless.

More Fun in Iraq

A good article detailing some of the latest happenings in Iraq. Further down, it's reported that several U.S. soldiers are in the process of being charged and possibly court-martialed with various crimes, such as kidnapping and murder, which I find to be very ironic. I have ever since the Abu Ghabrib thing and the outrage about all of that. I mean, you heard all this outrage about the torture and degradation of these men by a few soldiers. But one man and his administration decided to put our troops there in the first place where they could do these things. Soldiers are being charged with murdering one or two Iraqis, who I'm presuming weren't terrorists and weren't armed, but yet based on Bush's initative, our forces went there, probably killed hundreds of people (if not thousands) before their boots even hit the ground, and even now they're dying, as well as U.S. soldiers. How can one soldier be charged with murder or kidnapping, yet the guy who orchestrated the deaths of thousands and the upheavel of millions, he's still in the White House and once he's out of there, won't have a care for the rest of his days. It just sucks how this country works sometimes.

Sunnis End Iraqi Parliament Boycott
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Jul 19, 9:18 AM (ET)


(AP) Iraqi Army soldiers speak to a suspected terrorist before loading him into their armored vehicle...
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BAGHDAD (AP) - Sunni lawmakers ended their five-week boycott of parliament Thursday, raising hopes the factious assembly can make progress on benchmark legislation demanded by Washington. The U.S. said two American soldiers have been charged with killing an Iraqi.

Also Thursday, the U.S. command announced the deaths of five American soldiers. Four soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed Wednesday in a roadside bombing in east Baghdad and one soldier was killed Friday by small arms fire near Rusdi Mulla, just to the southwest of the city.

The 44 members of the Iraqi Accordance Front attended Thursday's session after striking a deal with other blocs to reinstate the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was ousted by the Shiite-dominated assembly last month for erratic behavior.

Al-Mashhadani is expected to gracefully resign after presiding over a number of sessions. Shiite legislator Hassan al-Suneid, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said al-Mashhadani's return came after secret conditions that should not be made public.

(AP) Iraqi Army soldiers prepare to load two suspected terrorists into their armored vehicle Thursday,...
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However, one official said al-Mashhadani has until Wednesday to step down or parliament will force him out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

"We all have to work together to rescue Iraq from the catastrophe which has befallen it," Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi told parliament. "This is the first step in solving the Iraqi problem and in stopping the bloodshed."

The Sunnis ended their walkout two days after Shiite lawmakers loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ended their boycott after officials accepted their demands for rebuilding a Shiite shrine damaged by bombings.

Those two boycotts had paralyzed the 275-member parliament, which is under strong criticism from U.S. critics for failing to approve key legislation and for plans to take a month's vacation in August at a time when American and Iraqi troops are dying on the battlefield.

The sensitivities displayed by both the Accordance Front and al-Sadr's allies indicates the depth of suspicion and sectarian rivalry prevalent in Iraq after more than four years of war.

(AP) An Iraqi Army soldier escorts a suspected terrorist Thursday, July 19, 2007, as U.S. and Iraqi...
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The U.S. military said an Army lieutenant colonel had been relieved of command in connection with the murder charges, which were filed this week against two soldiers - Sgt. 1st Class Trey A. Corrales of San Antonio and Spc. Christopher P. Shore of Winder, Ga.

Each was charged with one count of murder in the death, which allegedly occurred June 23 near the northern city of Kirkuk, the U.S. said.

Lt. Col. Michael Browder, who was their battalion commander, is not a suspect and has not been charged with any offense but was fired for leadership failure, the U.S. said.

The statement noted that the charges are allegations and neither of the two soldiers has been convicted.

The charges were announced one day after a U.S. Marine was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder in connection with the death of an Iraq last year in Hamdania. Cpl. Trent Thomas was acquitted of the most serious charge of premeditated murder during a trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

(AP) Iraqi Army soldiers escort suspected terrorists Thursday, July 19, 2007, as U.S. and Iraqi troops...
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Meanwhile, American and Iraqi forces were continuing operations to clear Sunni extremists from the eastern part of Baqouba, 35 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. said.

U.S. troops killed three al-Qaida suspects Thursday as they tried to slip out of the city, Iraqi security officials said. Clashes occurred during the day as American and Iraqi forces moved through the streets, securing buildings and clearing explosives.

One insurgent explosives expert led U.S. and Iraqi troops to a bombs cache hidden in two homes of Shiites who had fled sectarian tension, police said.

U.S. troops regained control of the western half of the city last month and launched operations into the rest of Baqouba on Tuesday.

Since last month, the Americans said they have killed at least 67 al-Qaida operatives in Baqouba, arrested 253, seized 63 weapons caches and have destroyed 151 roadside bombs.

In Baghdad, suspected Shiite militiamen blew up the minaret on a Sunni mosque in the city's Jihad area, police said. The bodies of two men with bullets in their heads were found dumped near the mosque, police said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Gunmen firing from a speeding car killed a bodyguard of a Sunni parliament member in Mosul, police said. A Kurdish political party member was ambushed and killed in eastern Mosul, police also said, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason.

In western Iraq, residents said assailants blew up two bridges in Haditha overnight. The bridges connect Haditha with Anah, about 160 miles northwest of the capital. The American forces are blocking the area now looking for those involved in the operation.

The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ahnuld of dogs

She looks like a dog I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, but she's actually really sweet according to this article. Wendy has a rare genetic mutation that increases her muscles and weight, while her head is at a more or less regular size.

Big Wendy the muscular whippet
Rare genetic mutation increases muscles, weight of sleek breed
Kim Westad
Times Colonist

Wendy the Whippet has a genetic disorder that has resulted in an exceptionally muscular appearance.
CREDIT: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist
Wendy the Whippet has a genetic disorder that has resulted in an exceptionally muscular appearance.

People mistake her for a pitbull with a pinhead, but Wendy the whippet is one rare breed.

So rare that the Central Saanich dog recently graced the New York Times. She also had several of her photos shown on The Today Show, all because of a rare genetic mutation that has led to her being the Incredible Hulk of dogs.

Wendy is a 27-kilogram rippling mass of muscle. Forget the so-called six-pack stomach: Wendy has a 24-pack. And the muscles around her neck are so thick, they look like a lion's ruff.

"People have referred to her as Arnold Schwarzenegger," says doting owner Ingrid Hansen, stroking Wendy's sleek black coat and white chest.

Wendy was recently part of a genetics study done in the U.S. on mutation in the myostatin gene in whippets, which resemble greyhounds in appearance. The National Institute of Health study reported that whippets with one single defective copy of the gene have increased muscle mass that can enhance racing performance in the breed, known for speeds up to 60 kilometres an hour.

But whippets with two mutated copies of the gene become "double-muscled," like Wendy. It has been seen before in one human, and also in mice, cattle and sheep, says the study.

The uber-muscled whippets are called "bullies," not because of their nature -- Wendy likes nothing better than a good back scratch and isn't shy about sitting in your lap to ask for one -- but because of their size. She's about twice the weight of an average whippet, but with the same height and small narrow head -- and the same size heart and lungs, which means she probably won't live as long as normal whippets.

Hansen has had Wendy, now four, since she bought the dog from a Shawnigan Lake breeder when she was eight months old.

Wendy landed in clover. She lives on an acreage, runs around with other dogs and horses, sleeps on Hansen's bed and pretty much anywhere else she wants to.

People are often afraid when the muscle-bound dog runs up to them on her dainty whippet-thin legs, but they soon realize she's friendly, Hansen said.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Al Qaeda ramps up its propaganda

A media arm of Al-Qaeda formed in 2005 has already released over 60 audio or video clips this year alone. There is a new one out currently that shows footage of Osama Bin Laden, although it's arguable whether the footage is recent or not. Regardless, between this and that NIE report I cited, it's clear that Al-Qaeda has not cut and run; they have not been "smoked out", to quote our Great Leader. The Homeland Security chief has talked about a strange feeling that Al-Qaeda is gearing up for another attack, possibly as soon as this summer. Now, maybe if Bush had kept our efforts on Afghanistan, along with pressure on Pakistan and the Saudis, instead of attacking and occupying the one place in the Middle East that wasn't a hotbed for the radical Islamic extremists and that we knew the terrorists weren't at, maybe Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda wouldn't be mocking us nearly six years after 9/11. Here's a good article from the Christian Science Monitor.

Al Qaeda ramps up its propaganda

The bin Laden video is the latest of the group's 2007 media blitz: 63 messages, so far.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

A new video from Al Qaeda's media arm, with previously unseen and undated footage of Osama bin Laden praising the group's "martyrs," underscores the extent to which the group's propaganda campaign has improved in both production quality and volume over the past year.

Experts on the group say that nothing in the video indicates that Al Qaeda is, or is not, planning a major strike on Western targets, despite comments from US Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff last week saying that he has a "gut feeling" that Al Qaeda may stage a spectacular attack this summer.

But there is no question that Al Qaeda propaganda outlets have been working at a high rate over the past year, with frequent and timely broadcasts from the group's No. 2, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, who, like Mr. bin Laden, is believed to live in either Afghanistan or the tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan.

"It's a drumbeat. If they disappear for a while people say, 'Oh, they're dead or they're gone.' So they want to keep up with the drumbeat," says Evan Kohlmann, an author who closely tracks the propaganda efforts of Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups.

Mr. Kohlmann attributes the increased media output to three causes: better technology, a more secure position, and competition from other jihadi groups.

When the Al Qaeda media wing, known as As Sahab, became active at the end of 2005, it might have been worried that producing too many videos would lead to capture. But when that didn't happen, he says, they were encouraged to produce more of them, in addition to outsourcing the distribution and improving their technological savvy.

Sahab has released at least 63 audio and video messages so far this year, compared with 58 in 2006, according to the Associated Press. In many of those, Mr. Zawahiri has been able to respond to the news events within days, getting his group's perspective on radical Islamic websites.

Zawahiri has issued at least 10 messages since January on events such as Hamas's takeover of Gaza to the recent siege on a Pakistani mosque.

Some analysts say that this new technological prowess by Al Qaeda indicates that its leadership has recaptured the reins and it is far from being cut off and on the run.

This assessment is bolstered by a report from the US intelligence establishment that Al Qaeda has been gaining strength in many areas. Last week, AP reported a leak of a US intelligence summary titled "Al Qaeda better positioned to strike the West." That summary effectively declared that US operations against Al Qaeda since 9/11 have been a failure.

It says the organization has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," that it has established effective havens in Pakistan for training and operational planning and that it has improved its ability to infiltrate operatives into Europe.

This newest video has attracted a fair degree of interest because of the footage of bin Laden. According to a translation by CNN, bin Laden asked in the video, "What is this status that the best of mankind wished for himself?" "He wished to be a martyr. He himself said: 'By Him in whose hands my life is! I would love to attack and be martyred.' "

But experts say there's nothing up-to-date in his brief and vague comments incorporated there and that his contribution could be months, if not years, old.

"If you look at the video, a lot of it looks rehashed, looks like it's from the archive. There's nothing in the video so new and unusual," says Kohlmann. "I don't really understand what it is about this video [that's attracting attention] other than it's coming in a week when Michael Chertoff said he had a 'gut feeling' Al Qaeda will attack again."

He said there have been other videos released in the past year with short clips of bin Laden taken from around the same period as the latest clip, which he suspects is pre-9/11.

Rita Katz, who runs the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) institute, the world's most active tracker of jihadi propaganda, agrees that the latest video is no departure from the norm. "The phones have been ringing off the hook [but] there's nothing in this video. It's just another propaganda video. The video of bin Laden is old."

The only point of interest in the latest tape, from Ms. Katz's perspective, is its focus on "martyrs" from Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda's media arm has put out similarly slick montages of men who have died in Iraq and other locations in the past, but she said as far as she knows this is the first one focusing on Afghanistan.

The 40-minute video, dedicated to Muslims who have left their homes to fight, included a series of animated scenes showing green fields overlaid with Arabic names written in gold, representing Arab fighters who had died in Afghanistan. Following one such sequence, the self-proclaimed leader of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan appeared, praising his fellow fighters.

"Your hero sons, courageous knights have left to the land of Afghanistan ... the land of jihad and martyrdom, answering the call for the sake of God to kick out the occupier who has desecrated the pure soil of Afghanistan," said Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed.

The Islamic hadith, or sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad, make a number of references of praise for those who fight and die for God and Islam, promising them paradise.

Where the debate arises for Muslims is in the matter of what causes are merited, and whether the killing of civilians is allowed, whether the cause is just or not.

Most mainstream Muslims believe that acceptable jihads are defensive ones. Al Qaeda has, in turn, created a narrative in which all of Islam is under constant attack by the US and the "West" and, therefore, almost any act that they interpret as hurting the US or its allies is, in their view, allowed.

www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ESPN: Worldwide Cheerleader?

I haven't really watched ESPN in, well, years, but this critique in Newsweek is really interesting and puts ESPN in the place where it made sense that it'd be, considering that again, I'm not a regular viewer. It's bigger, corporate-owned, and while you may think a sports network wouldn't be biased in its news the same way a network news broadcast or an all-cable news network would be, you would appear to be wrong. As the article points out, ESPN has deals with MLB, NFL, NASCAR, as well as other major sports organizations. This has impacted their programming decisions and their news coverage. Dan Patrick leaving also isn't good.

I do have to say that of the few snippets of coverage I see of Sportscenter I see here and there (which I can't help since my brother is a huge baseball fan), they seem to be going easy on Barry Bonds. At least at this point, his use of steroids has taken a back seat to his tainted pursuit of Hammerin' Hank's home run record. I did get to see the pilot of The Bronx is Burning last week, which was okay. Turturro always does a great job.


ESPN: Worldwide Cheerleader?
As its empire grows, has ESPN become the worldwide cheerleader in sports?
By Devin Gordon

July 23, 2007 issue - Throughout July, ESPN's award-winning flagship news hour "SportsCenter" is devoting a chunk of every broadcast to a segment called "Who's Now." It's an elimination tournament, purely theoretical, to determine which current athlete is the most "now"—although two weeks into the competition, it's still anyone's guess what exactly "now" means. A panel of experts, including ex-NFL diva Keyshawn Johnson, debate whether, say, the NBA's Dwyane Wade or snowboarder Shaun White is more "now." Viewers vote online, and the winner moves on to face Tiger Woods in the next round. And so on. Everything about the segment is so artificial, from concept to execution, that watching it is like chewing Styrofoam.

Lots of people in the sports world took shots at "Who's Now" last week, including ESPN's own star columnist Bill Simmons. It was just another wound in what turned out be an unexpectedly untriumphant stretch for "the worldwide leader in sports." Monday's Home Run Derby on ESPN, minus slugger Barry Bonds, who declined to participate because he's old, was a bit of a dud. Later that evening, the network's much-hyped miniseries, "The Bronx Is Burning," premiered to lukewarm reviews and luker-warm ratings. And on Wednesday, one of ESPN's brightest nights of the year—the taping of its annual sports awards show, the Espys—was dimmed by the news that longtime "SportsCenter" anchor Dan Patrick, arguably ESPN's most cherished on-air personality, was leaving the network. ESPN still has plenty of big names on the payroll; its TV dominion is secure. But Patrick's departure is a watershed moment, not least because it epitomizes a battle for the soul of ESPN. As an anchor, Patrick struck the perfect balance between wit and gravitas; he had the funniest one-liners and he asked the toughest questions. But in recent years, networkwide, that balance has begun to tip unmistakably toward the kind of athlete-centric idol worship that seems more like the province of Us Weekly than ESPN.

Some of this is inevitable. ESPN's lucrative partnerships with the NFL, the NBA, MLB and NASCAR, among others, have put its news operation, and "SportsCenter" in particular, in a unique bind. "Imagine The New York Times owning half of the Broadway theaters whose plays it reviews. Or imagine CNN paying billions of dollars for exclusive ... rights to cover the War in Iraq," wrote ESPN's own ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, in a May 10 Web column titled "At ESPN, Conflict of Interest Is Business as Usual." It has led to the occasional gaffe, like ESPN's decision to cancel its well-regarded drama "Playmakers" after the NFL complained about the show. And many influential sports bloggers, such as The Big Lead and Deadspin, have accused the network of ignoring sports, especially pro hockey, that ESPN doesn't have deals with. Then again, ESPN has ramped up its coverage of ultimate fighting even though the network has no financial stake in it—and does have a stake in its rival, boxing. And while it's true that ESPN's hockey coverage has declined lately, hockey has also declined lately. Is that ESPN's fault, or the NHL's?

What's more troubling is how frequently ESPN's boosterism leads to bad television. Another regular "SportsCenter" segment called "A Day in the Life" (think "ESPN Cribs") recently featured star NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was suspended last year after he flunked a steroid test. "SportsCenter" duly noted the suspension early on, but it only underscored the exercise in image rehabilitation that came next: Merriman eating breakfast, Merriman lifting weights, Merriman volunteering at a soup kitchen. How convenient that ESPN's cameras showed up for that day in his life.

ESPN remains peerless at reporting, and breaking, news—there's a reason so many of us still mainline hour after hour of "SportsCenter." And it has covered the year's biggest story, Bonds's tainted pursuit of Hank Aaron's hallowed home-run record, with a fittingly ambivalent mix of awe and skepticism. But too often, the network seems hellbent on sanctifying athletes, rather than merely covering them, because it's good business for both. (ESPN's overreliance on underqualified ex-jocks to fill its analyst ranks is a grating example.) In a way, the Espys have become an apt metaphor for ESPN. It's a party the network throws for itself and its closest friends. Everyone sits together, news anchors rubbing elbows with All-Stars. It's more business as usual—two crowds that should probably keep their distance, getting a little too cozy instead.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19734725/site/newsweek/