Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Huffington Post > Paul The Octopus, World Cup Genius

Read the entire article here.
[...] The marvelous mollusk accurately predicted the outcome of all of Germany's group play matches -- including the country's stunning loss to Serbia -- by choosing between two mouthwatering mussels, one for Germany and one for its opponent. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weightless sexual intercourse?

From the "Commanders do not allow sexual intercourse on the International Space Station, it has been disclosed." But what about those long upcoming trips to Mars? Geeez.

NYT > when capitalism meets cannabis. They don't call Denver the "mile high city" for nothing

Read the entire article here
Americans spend roughly $25 billion a year on marijuana, according to the Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which gives some idea of the popularity of this drug. Eventually, we might be talking about a sizable sum of tax revenue from its sales as medicine, not to mention private investment and employment. A spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says hedge fund investors and an assortment of financial service firms are starting to call around to sniff out opportunities.

CIA director Leon Panetta > 50-100 Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Does this make you wonder what we are doing there? I wonder.

Leon Panetta gave his first-ever network news interview as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Sunday. Panetta, appearing on "This Week" with Jake Tapper, broke some serious news. Here's the transcript. Below a revelations from Panetta's interview.

Only '50 to 100' Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan Asked how many al-Qaeda were in Afghanistan, Panetta responded, "I think at most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan." Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler notes that the U.S. plans to invest up to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. "Even Afghan war fans admit that it costs $1 million a year -- on top of things like salary -- to support a US service member in Afghanistan. ... So 1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That's $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan."
Added 2010/07/05: Fareed Zakaria criticizes 'disproportionate' Afghanistan war on CNN. Click here for Huffington Post article which includes video from CNN.

The most expensive coffee in the world

From Wikipedia
Kopi luwak (Indonesian [ˈkopi ˈlu.ak]), or civet coffee, is coffee made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and other related civets, then passed through its digestive tract.
[1] A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet's intestines the beans are then defecated, having kept their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness, widely noted as the most expensive coffee in the world. 
Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, and also in the Philippines (where the product is called motit coffee in the Cordillera and kape alamid in Tagalog areas) and also in East Timor (where it is called kafé-laku). Weasel coffee is a loose English translation of its name cà phê Chồn in Vietnam, where popular, chemically simulated versions are also produced. 
 A civet 
 Pre-washed civet coffee

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Movie Review > 'Solitary Man' starring Michael Douglas

'Solitary Man' stars Michael Douglas w Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito & Mary-Louise Parker.

It took a lot of executive producers, producers, a couple of writers & two directors (I'm not sure how that works) to get this film to market. To me that usually means (1) it is a crappy film by some first timers starring unknowns or (2) when you have a cast like this one, it isn't your 'usual' Hollywood fare which is generally good in my book.

And so it was with 'Solitary Man', which felt like a thoughtfully constructed David Mamet play -- lots of interesting dialog with almost no action.

'Solitary Man' is the story about a man, a super car salesman, reminiscent of Gordon Gecko, also played so deliciously by Mr. Douglas -- who we watch on a downward spiral starting from a high flying New York City lifestyle, finally becoming the solitary man.

One piece of his storied existence collapses after another. And while on the one hand, we could feel sorry for him, on the other hand we feel he might be getting everything he deserves for having lived his arrogant, salesman, over-the-top life when the truth stopped mattering.

The character -- as played by Mr. Douglas -- walks this careful line throughtout the film so the audience can never quite commit to one camp or the other.

And while there are some minor scenes with the rest of this accomplished cast, this movie is all Michael Douglas. And like a mature Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart", Michael Douglas gets better with age in my opinion.

There's a depth & a realism to this role that almost makes one forget that he's Michael Douglas or maybe makes you marvel that it actually is Michael Douglas. Perhaps Mr. Douglas -- who's has had his share of ups & downs -- found some truth in the character based on his own experience from which to draw inspiration. However he did it, it worked.

I would give it four stars were I an actual reviewer. If you like thought provoking films, go see it. Don't go see it for laughs even though there are a few of those as well.

The official website is here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ambassador 'Blago' > Another Illinois embarrassment

Read the whole article here. Get all the wiretap tape transcripts here
At one point in the tape, Blagojevich asks if he could get Obama to appoint him as Secretary of Health and Human Services or another top federal post. [snip] 
"I don't think that's realistic," Harris tells Blagojevich.  [snip] 
Harris also tries to shoot down a suggestion from Blagojevich that he could try to get various ambassadorships, including United Nations ambassador or ambassador to India or South Africa. But Harris tells Blagojevich those aren't viable options either [snip] 
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat Obama gave up following his November 2008 election. He has also pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor's office. 
If convicted, Blagojevich could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, although he is certain to get much less under federal guidelines.

Monday, June 21, 2010

With allies like this, do we need enemies?

[...] According to Pro Paskistani, petitioner Muhammad Azhar Sidiqque said he's waiting for the police to contact Interpol about making arrangements for the arrest of Facebook's owners and "Andy". The site also says that the Deputy Attorney General told the High Court that Pakistan’s United Nations representative has asked to escalate the issue in the UN General Assembly.

[...] the [Pakistani] penal code reads: "Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine."

Read the complete story here.

Is it possible there may be journalistic hope for us yet?

Investigative reporting is increasingly being outsourced, and these offices off K Street serve as a boiler room for research that the big boys are less able to afford. The Center for Public Integrity is hardly a traditional news operation, but it is taking on a more prominent media role, fueled by a recent hiring spree that has added more than half a dozen journalists to its 45-person staff.

Read the whole story @ the Washington Post

Saturday, June 19, 2010

BBC News > Iranian cleric denounces dog owners

An old but scary article about life in Tehran. Another & more extensive article on the same subject can be found here.

A conservative Iranian cleric has denounced the "moral depravity" of owning a dog, and called for the arrest of all dogs and their owners.

Dogs are considered unclean in Islamic law and the spread of dog ownership in Westernised secular circles in Iran is frowned upon by the religious establishment.

"I demand the judiciary arrest all dogs with long, medium or short legs - together with their long-legged owners," Hojatolislam Hassani is quoted as saying in the reformist Etemad newspaper.

"Otherwise I'll do it myself," said the outspoken cleric, who leads Friday prayers in the north-western city of Urumiyeh.

"In our country there is freedom of speech, but not freedom for corruption," he said.

Tehran journalist Mafiseh Kouhnavand told the BBC that the subject of dog ownership had been brought up many times before.

Hardline judiciary agents and police occasionally clamp down on the practice, fining owners and confiscating their pets from streets and parks.

Short-legged dogs were the target of a previous campaign

In June, police banned the sale of dogs and penalised anyone walking a dog in public. The practice is seen by conservatives as a corrupting influence of decadent Western culture.

But despite the clampdowns, dog ownership has been on the rise, especially among rich Iranians in the north of Tehran.

"Now it has reached Urumiyeh, but some people were not ready for it," Ms Kouhnavand said.

Hojatolislam Hassani appears to be widening the scope of his anti-canine campaign.

Last year, he publicly thanked police for their policy of exclusively confiscating short-legged dogs in Urumiyeh.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sign of the Times

I received the following text message on my phone:
Heyy. Baby <333:) 
sorry wrong number 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Great moments in political celebrity: JFK meets Marilyn. Nixon meets Elvis. Reagans meet King of Pop. McCain meets Snooki.

In the recently released “Jersey Shore Season 2 Sneak Peek.” [...] Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi stands in the middle of her pink bedroom with her eyes closed and her hands pressed to her hairline as her boyfriend mists her face with a third coating of spray-on tan. [...]

In the interview that follows this scene, Snooki takes aim at the Obama White House.

“I don’t go tanning-tanning anymore because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning, and I feel like he did that intentionally for us,” Snooki says. “McCain would never put a 10 percent tax on tanning because he’s pale and he would probably want to be tan.”

McCain responded by Twitter:

@Sn00ki u r right, I would never tax your tanning bed! Pres Obama's tax/spend policy is quite The Situation. but I do rec wearing sunscreen! 

@RTwitter > If POTUS meets Tony Hayward, he should have scary-looking pelican wandering around room w/out explanation

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Adult Breast-Feeding Fatwa > This might have been filed under 'strange' except for what it says about women 's rights in Saudi Arabia & other strict Islamic states

Dana Kennedy, Contributor: AOL News

(June 5) -- Women in Saudi Arabia should give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to avoid breaking strict Islamic law forbidding mixing between the sexes, two powerful Saudi clerics have said. They are at odds, however, over precisely how the milk should be conveyed.

A fatwa issued recently about adult breast-feeding to establish "maternal relations" and preclude the possibility of sexual contact has resulted in a week's worth of newspaper headlines in Saudi Arabia. Some have found the debate so bizarre that they're calling for stricter regulations about how and when fatwas should be issued. 

Sheikh Al Obeikan, an adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice, set off a firestorm of controversy recently when he said on TV that women who come into regular contact with men who aren't related to them ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives.

"The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman," Al Obeikan said, according to Gulf News. "He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam's rules about mixing."

Obeikan said the fatwa applied to men who live in the same house or come into contact with women on a regular basis, except for drivers.

Al Obeikan, who made the statement after being asked on TV about a 2007 fatwa issued by an Egyptian scholar about adult breast-feeding, said that the breast milk ought to be pumped out and given to men in a glass. 

But his remarks were followed by an announcement by another high-profile sheik, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who said that men should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast.

Shortly after the two sheiks weighed in on the matter, a bus driver in the country's Eastern Region reportedly told one of the female teachers whom he drives regularly that he wanted to suckle milk from her breast. The teacher has threaten to file a lawsuit against him.

The fatwa stems from the tenets of the strict Wahhabi version of Islam that governs modern Saudi Arabia and forbids women from mixing with men who are not relatives. They are also not allowed to vote, drive or even leave the country without the consent of a male "guardian."

Under Islamic law, women are encouraged to breast-feed their children until the age of 2. It is not uncommon for sisters, for example, to breast-feed their nephews so they and their daughters will not have to cover their faces in front of them later in life. The custom is called being a "breast milk sibling."

But under Islamic law, breast milk siblings have to be breastfed before the age of 2 in five "fulfilling" sessions. Islam prohibits sexual relations between a man and any woman who breastfed him in infancy. They are then allowed to be alone together when the man is an adult because he is not considered a potential mate.

"The whole issue just shows how clueless men are," blogger Eman Al Nafjan wrote on her website. "All this back and forth between sheiks and not one bothers to ask a woman if it's logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breast milk meals.

"Moreover, the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman's breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal."

Al Nafjan said many in the country were appalled by the fatwa.

"We have many important issues that need discussing," Al Nafjan told AOL News Friday. "It's ridiculous to spend time talking about adult breast-feeding."

Unlawful mixing between the sexes is taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, a 75-year-old Syrian widow, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, living in the city of Al-Chamil, was given 40 lashes and sentenced to six months in prison after the religious police learned that two men who were not related to her were in her house, delivering bread to her. 

One of the two men found in her house, Fahd, told the police that Sawadi breast-fed him as a baby so he was considered a son and had a right to be there. But in a later court ruling, a judge said it could not be proved that Fahd was her "breast milk son." Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes, and the man who accompanied him got six months and 60 lashes.

The original adult breast-feeding fatwa was issued three years ago by an Egyptian scholar at Egypt's al-Azhar University, considered Sunni Islam's top university. Ezzat Attiya was expelled from the university after advocating breast-feeding of men as a way to circumnavigate segregation of the sexes in Egypt.
A year ago, Attiya was reinstated to his post.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

No words are necessary

Book Review > Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley

The heroine, athletic, motor cycle riding, Florence Farfaletti (does her name remind you of a pasta) -- once married to a minor Arabian prince -- joins the U.S. Foreign Service & becomes embroiled in a 'sensitive' event wherein Nazrah, one the Wasabian Ambassador's wives, tries to escape her marriage by asking for political asylum.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end well for Nazrah, who is eventually returned to her country where she is beheaded.

This event 'radicalizes' Florence into becoming a CIA dupe (maybe), tasked with 'charming' the ultra conservative paternalistic culture of the Royal Kingdom of Wasabia into a more modern society based on her operational proposal titled "Female Emancipation as a Mean of Achieving Long-term Political Stability in the Near East". 

Instead she turns the kingdom on its political head, revealing -- at once -- the ridiculous anachronistic culture of Wasabia, the self-serving, backstabbing nature of our intergovernmental agencies as well as the resulting foreign policies & the interests of big money that overrides all of it. 

Even though Buckley deals with very real & extremely important issues, he does it in an entertaining fashion using Florence as his foil..... Or should I say rapier. It's a fast, sometimes humorous, but 'telling' read. You only wish a real person could pull this off one day & make right what's wrong in so much of that part of the world. 

Friday, June 04, 2010

Video > Cat that hiccups & farts

Double-Dip Recession > say it isn't so, Robert Reich

FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 2010

We’re falling into a double-dip recession. 

The Labor Department reports this morning that the private sector added a measly 41,000 net new jobs in May. (The vast bulk of new jobs in May were temporary government Census workers.) But at least 100,000 new jobs are needed every month just to keep up with population growth. 

In other words, the labor market continues to deteriorate.   

The average length of unemployment continues to rise – now up to 34.4 weeks (up from 33 weeks in April). That’s another record. 

More Americans are too discouraged to look for a job than last year at this time (1.1 million in May,  an increase of 291,000 from a year earlier.)

Of the small number of jobs created by the private sector in May, many came from temporary help services.

Which is one reason why the median wage continues to drop. 

Why are we having such a hard time getting free of the Great Recession? Because consumers, who constitute 70 percent of the economy, don’t have the dough. They can’t any longer treat their homes as ATMs, as they did before the Great Recession. 

Businesses won’t rehire if there’s not enough demand for their goods and services.

The only reason the economy isn’t in a double-dip recession already is because of three temporary boosts: the federal stimulus (of which 75 percent has been spent), near-zero interest rates (which can’t continue much longer without igniting speculative bubbles), and replacements (consumers have had to replace worn-out cars and appliances, and businesses had to replace worn-down inventories). Oh, and, yes, all those Census workers (who will be out on their ears in a month or so). 

But all these boosts will end soon. Then we’re in the dip. 

Retail sales are already down. 

So what’s the answer? In the short term, more stimulus – especially extended unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments that are whacking schools and social services because they can’t run deficits. 

But the deficit crazies in the Senate, who can’t seem to differentiate between short-term stimulus (necessary) and long-term debt (bad) last week shot it down. 

In the longer term, we need a new New Deal that will bolster America’s floundering middle class.

Most prior recessions were caused by the Fed over-shooting in trying to control inflation by raising interest rates too high. So the garden-variety recession could be reversed by the Fed reversing itself and lowering rates. But the Great Recession was caused by the bursting of a huge housing bubble. And that can’t be reversed without a major restructuring of the economy because housing prices won’t be back to where they were — and won’t be rising above that peak — for years.

We have to get to the core problem: a middle class that doesn’t have the dough to buy the goods and services the economy is capable of produciing. Where to start? Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and extend it up through the middle class. Finance that extension through higher marginal income taxes on the wealthy, who have never had it so good.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

From the Daily Beast > Cardinal Perjury?

I think this is an interesting story. Read the complete article.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles faces the prospect of an unwelcome retirement gift when he steps down in February: A federal indictment. 

These guys are no fun > U.N. official: U.S. should end CIA drone attacks in Pakistan

A senior United Nations official said Wednesday that the United States should halt the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan, charging that the official secrecy surrounding the strikes violates the legal principle of international accountability.  Here's the rest of the article in the Washington Post.

By 5-4 Vote, Supreme Court Decides Gores Must Stay Married

WASHINGTON - (The Borowitz Report) - In what is shaping up to be one of the most controversial decisions in the history of the institution, the Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote today that former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper must remain married.

The vote, which critics noted was strictly on party lines, had justices appointed by Republican presidents overturning the Gores' announced separation.

The historic decision marked the first time that the Supreme Court has upended the divorce plans of a former vice president, according to vice presidential marriage historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota.

"While some will surely criticize this decision, it actually speaks to the strength of our democratic institutions," he said. "The Gores will remain married, whether they like it or not - but there were no tanks in the streets."

The Los Angeles Times says Andy Borowitz has "
one of the funniest Twitter feeds around." 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-named -- BOOK.

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use, even a child can operate it.

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.

Here's how it works:

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence.

Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now, BOOKS with more information simply use more pages. Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet.

BOOK may be taken up at any time and used merely by opening it.

BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, though, like other devices, it can become damaged if coffee is spilled on it and it becomes unusable if dropped too many times on a hard surface. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature, which pin-points the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOK markers can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK. You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with optional programming tools, Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Styli (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. BOOK's appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking to invest. Look for a flood of new titles soon.

SCOTUS impaired > The right to remain silent now requires you to speak.

A suspect was given his Miranda rights to remain silent (or it could be used against him in a court of law). He remained mostly silent despite 3 hours of continued questioning by the police. Finally one his questioners asked Q: Do you believe in God? 'Yes" he answered. Q: Do you think God is forgiving of people's sins? (paraphrase) "Yes" he answered. Q: Do you think God would forgive you for what you did to [the victim]? "Yes" he replied.

These answers were used against him in court which led to his conviction. When challenged by their admissibility the Supreme Court found that the accused hadn't really said he wanted to remain silent so whatever he said was admissible.

“The right to remain silent” now requires you to speak: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that criminal suspects must explicitly tell police interrogators that they wish to remain silent in order to receive Miranda protections. Previously, that right had been a given. The decision split the court along its familiar conservative-liberal fault line. Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that the decision “turns Miranda upside down . . . suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so.” You can read more about it here

Poor Tony Hayward > He'd like his life back

We guess we’d feel the same way if we made $4.5 million a year. BP CEO Tony Hayward said on Sunday, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” It’s the latest in his roll of insensitive comments about the disaster his company created. Earlier highlights include, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” and, “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest.” Here's more to read on the subject of oil spills from one source.