Archive for the 'current events' Category

Could BP oil spill end life on earth?

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Foreword: It’s deceptively tempting to dismiss the following article as “just another crackpot theory”, but if there’s any possibility whatsoever that this information could be accurate, then ignore it at your own peril.

The Problem

Ominous reports are leaking past the BP Gulf salvage operation news blackout that the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico may be about to reach biblical proportions.

251 million years ago a mammoth undersea methane bubble caused massive explosions, poisoned the atmosphere and destroyed more than 96 percent of all life on Earth. Experts agree that what is known as the Permian extinction event was the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the world.

55 million years later another methane bubble ruptured, causing more mass extinctions during the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum (LPTM). The LPTM lasted for 100,000 years.

Those subterranean seas of methane virtually reshaped the planet when they explosively blew from deep beneath the waters of what is today called the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, worried scientists are increasingly concerned the same series of catastrophic events that led to worldwide death back then may be happening again — and no known technology can stop it.

The bottom line: BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years.

The oil giant drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble.

Ryskin’s methane extinction theory

Northwestern University’s Gregory Ryskin, a bio-chemical engineer, has a theory: The oceans periodically produce massive eruptions of explosive methane gas. He has documented the scientific evidence that such an event was directly responsible for the mass extinctions that occurred 55 million years ago.

Many geologists concur: “The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region “boils over,” ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain). The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide…”

The warning signs of an impending planetary catastrophe — of such great magnitude that the human mind has difficulty grasping it — would be the appearance of large fissures or rifts splitting open the ocean floor, a rise in the elevation of the seabed, and the massive venting of methane and other gases into the surrounding water. Such occurrences can lead to the rupture of the methane bubble containment. It can then permit the methane to breach the subterranean depths and undergo an explosive decompression as it catapults into the Gulf waters.

All three warning signs are documented to be occurring in the Gulf.

Ground zero:  The Gulf Coast

The people and property located on the greater expanse of the Gulf Coast are sitting at Ground Zero. They will be the first exposed to poisonous, cancer causing chemical gases. They will be the ones that initially experience the full fury of a methane bubble exploding from the ruptured seabed.

The media has been kept away from the emergency salvage measures being taken to forestall the biggest catastrophe in human history. The federal government has warned them away from the epicenter of operations with the threat of a $40,000 fine for each infraction and the possibility of felony arrests. Why is the press being kept away? Word is that the disaster is escalating.

Cracks and bulges

Methane is now streaming through the porous, rocky seabed at an accelerated rate and gushing from the borehole of the first relief well. The EPA is on record that Rig #1 is releasing methane, benzene, hydrogen sulfide and other toxic gases. Workers there now wear advanced protection including state-of-the-art, military-issued gas masks.

Reports, filtering through from oceanologists and salvage workers in the region, state that the upper level strata of the ocean floor is succumbing to greater and greater pressure. That pressure is causing a huge expanse of the seabed — estimated by some as spreading over thousands of square miles surrounding the BP wellhead — to bulge. Some claim the seabed in the region has risen an astounding 30 feet.

The fractured BP wellhead, site of the former Deepwater Horizon, has become the epicenter of frenetic attempts to quell the monstrous flow of methane.

The subterranean methane is pressurized at 100,000 pounds psi. According to Matt Simmons, an oil industry expert, the methane pressure at the wellhead has now skyrocketed to a terrifying 40,000 pounds psi.

Another well-respected expert, Dr. John Kessler of Texas A&M University has calculated that the ruptured well is spewing 60 percent oil and 40 percent methane. The normal methane amount that escapes from a compromised well is about 5 percent.

More evidence? A huge gash on the ocean floor, a ragged wound hundreds of feet long, has been reported by the NOAA research ship, Thomas Jefferson. Before the curtain of the government enforced news blackout again descended abruptly, scientists aboard the ship voiced their concerns that the widening rift may go down miles into the earth.

That gash too is hemorrhaging oil and methane. It’s 10 miles away from the BP epicenter. Other new fissures have been spotted as far as 30 miles distant.

Measurements of the multiple oil plumes now appearing miles from the wellhead indicate that as much as a total of 124,000 barrels of oil are erupting into the Gulf waters daily — that’s about 5,208,000 gallons of oil per day.

Most disturbing of all: Methane levels in the water are now calculated as being almost one million times higher than normal.

Mass death on the water

If the methane bubble — a bubble that could be as big as 20 miles wide — erupts with titanic force from the seabed into the Gulf, every ship, drilling rig and structure within the region of the bubble will immediately sink. All the workers, engineers, Coast Guard personnel and marine biologists participating in the salvage operation will die instantly.

Next, the ocean bottom will collapse, instantaneously displacing up to a trillion cubic feet of water or more and creating a towering supersonic tsunami annihilating everything along the coast and well inland. Like a thermonuclear blast, a high pressure atmospheric wave could precede the tidal wave flattening everything in its path before the water arrives.

When the roaring tsunami does arrive it will scrub away all that is left.

A chemical cocktail of poisons

Some environmentalist experts are calling what’s pouring into the land, sea and air from the seabed breach ’a chemical cocktail of poisons.’

Areas of dead zones devoid of oxygen are driving species of fish into foreign waters, killing plankton and other tiny sea life that are the foundation for the entire food chain, and polluting the air with cancer-causing chemicals and poisonous rainfalls.

A report from one observer in South Carolina documents oily residue left behind after a recent thunderstorm. And before the news blackout fully descended the EPA released data that benzene levels in New Orleans had rocketed to 3,000 parts per billion.

Benzene is extremely toxic and even short term exposure can cause agonizing death from cancerous lesions years later.

The people of Louisiana have been exposed for more than two months—and the benzene levels may be much higher now. The EPA measurement was taken in early May.

Doomsday

While some say it can’t happen because the bulk of the methane is frozen into crystalline form, others point out that the underground methane sea is gradually melting from the nearby surging oil that’s estimated to be as hot as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most experts in the know, however, agree that if the world-changing event does occur it will happen suddenly and within the next 6 months.

So, if events go against Mankind and the bubble bursts in the coming months, Gregory Ryskin may become one of the most famous people in the world. Of course, he won’t have long to enjoy his new found fame because very shortly after the methane eruption civilization will collapse.

Perhaps if humanity is very, very lucky, we may find a way to avoid the mass extinction that follows and carry on the human race.

Perhaps.

Source:  “Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a “world-killing event”, posted on July 15, 2010 at 2:21 AM at helium.com

Memorial Day 2008

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Another Memorial Day is here, and hopefully at some point this weekend while we’re enjoying our BBQ cookouts and celebrating the unofficial start of summer, we will remember to honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country. We pay our respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in all the wars the U.S. has fought throughout its history, but the casualties in Iraq are foremost in the minds of many Americans this weekend.

No matter your political stripe or level of support for the war itself, you must admit that over the last five years and counting, those who have suffered most during this conflict (besides the Iraqi people themselves) have been the individual U.S. soldiers who have put their home lives on hold while simply trying to do the job they’ve been assigned as best as they can. It’s dirty, difficult, dangerous work, with the constant risk of injury and death; and as do many others, I make a huge distinction between our troops who voluntarily put themselves on the line every day, and the politicians and policies that continue to needlessly place them in harm’s way.

Here’s one small way to help. Have you ever passed by someone in uniform in a store, on the street, or in an airport and wanted to thank them for their service, but didn’t know how? Perhaps you were hesitant to start what could become an awkward conversation for either of you. Instead, you can wordlessly express your appreciation with something called “The Gratitude Gesture.” It’s easy; just place your hand over your heart momentarily, then keeping your elbow in place, extend your hand down, palm up. It takes maybe a second, and it’s becoming universally recognized as a symbol of respect and appreciation by civilians toward service men and women in public. It’s not military, like a salute, and it’s non-partisan, non-political, and non-judgmental. It simply says “thanks”. And people don’t say that enough anyway.

Vatican announces release of iPope 1.0

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Here is an Actual News Item:

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict will text message thousands of young Catholics on their mobile phones during World Youth Day in Sydney in July, hoping going digital will help him connect better with a younger audience.

Even though I’m not Catholic, I think it’s great that the Pontiff is adapting to 21st century technology. Since Joseph Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, many spiritually progressive types have been hoping that he would embrace a historic opportunity for the church to finally get with the times, modernize, shake off the dust, roll some bones, and pry open some of those old dungeon doors. Well according to the Reuters article, that seems to be exactly what’s happening, and I can only guess that an IM from His Holiness might look something like this:

OMG HEY PPL, IZ ME DA BIG GUY. SRY CANT C/U FTF, BUT GR8 2T2Y ANYHOO. U KNO MY A/S/L ATM? IM PRKED RITE OUTSIDE YR HOUSE IN THE POPE M/B!!!!! HAHA J/K, BUT I GOT A MSG 4U FR JESUS – DONT BE A H8R, LOL! B SURE 2 GIVE LOTS OF H&K TO YR GF/BF, BUT ALWAYS DTRT, THAT MEANS NO 420, PRON, OR SEX 4SURE!! HTG!! NOT JUS CUZ YPAW, BUT GIW TOO! SO IF YR NIFOC RITE NOW, PYPO & QUIT IT, DUDE!! ROFLMAO!! OK, I G2G, BUT THATS MY .02 AND UR AIMP. CIAO & TTYL, RATZ

Note: Translation Of Papal Message For Anyone Over The Age Of 16:

“Good Heavens! Hello brothers and sisters, it is I, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I’m so sorry I cannot meet with you face-to-face, but it is certainly great to talk to you nevertheless. Are you aware of my age, sex, and current location at this very moment? I am parked right in front of your house in my Papal Vehicle! Oh my, that is so funny, but I’m only kidding you, I have a message from Your Savior Jesus Christ the Son of God: Don’t be a person who hates others. I’m chuckling to myself now. You should always bless your girlfriend or boyfriend with many hugs and kisses … but be sure to do the right thing! What do I mean by this? I mean don’t smoke any marijuana, or watch pornography, and most importantly, always remain celibate. Honest to God, I mean it, and not only because your parents are watching you, but remember God is watching you too. So if you are sitting in front of your computer without any clothing on, put your pants back on and stop that sinful activity right now, young man! Oh my, that is so funny! Seriously, I must leave you now but I hope you will heed my helpful advice. Remember that you will always be in my prayers. Farewell, and I hope to send you another message at some point in the future.”

If Pope Benedict is able to get some props from teens as a result of this approach, I hope he will use his newfound street cred to go after Christian Rock, which is an oxymoron if ever there was one. (When Jesus returns, I personally think He might be a big fan of Pearl Jam.) And if this unorthodox method of reaching out to young people on World Youth Day succeeds, I can only assume that His Holiness would then take the next logical step: (Click on image for more detail.)


Oh yeah, I am definitely going to Hell for this.

Necisito un alka-seltzer, por favor

Monday, May 5th, 2008

We’re back! Happy Cinco de Mayo from Wind In The Wire.

We’ve timed our glorious return to the Blog Space in honor of this auspicious occasion. Now, I realize that some people may possibly confuse Cinco de Mayo with a similar ethnic holiday also celebrated in the spring, St. Patrick’s Day, but we are here to set the record straight once and for all: St. Patty’s Day is generally observed on March 17th, and involves a great deal of celebration and partying by getting totally drunk out of your mind on Guinness Stout, while in comparison, Cinco De Mayo is observed on May 5th (generally speaking) and involves a great deal of celebration and partying by getting totally drunk out of your mind on Jose Cuervo Tequila. This is an important distinction.

But seriously, today is a very important day in Mexican history, as it commemorates the historically significant birthday of, day of independence, er, I mean Battle of Hastings, New Orleans, The Bulge, um, well actually, I’m not sure; maybe one of these folks knows what Cinco de Mayo marks:

Ha ha! We’re just kidding! Of course any fool knows that Cinco De Mayo is primarily a regional and not an obligatory federal holiday which marks the initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, a date observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. Furthermore, any flea-brain yahoo will tell you that a common misconception in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day; Mexico’s Independence Day is actually September 16 (i.e., dieciséis de septiembre), which is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.

And naturally, it goes without saying (as any five-year old kindergarten student is well aware), that although the Mexican army was victorious over the French at Puebla, the victory only delayed the French invasion of Mexico City, and the French occupied Mexico a year later, during which time French occupying forces placed Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico, on the throne, but the French were eventually defeated and expelled in 1867, and Maximilian was executed by President Benito Juarez five years after the Battle of Puebla.

I mean, who doesn’t know that?? C’mon!

So in the spirit of this day marking the defeat of French forces by the Mexican Army, this blog sternly advises you to step away from that croissant and glass of wine, Francois, and have some chips, salsa, a big ol’ burrito and some cerveza instead. But when you wake up tomorrow morning and face the prospect of going to work with a God-awful hangover after a night of partying, eating, dancing and drinking, just don’t refer to today as “Sicko De Mayo”.

Arriba!

The seal deal

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Judging by the reaction to Tuesday’s pig post, today’s entry should really get y’all worked up … and I sincerely hope it does.

Friday, March 28 begins the season when hundreds of thousands of Harp Seal pups — many only 12 to 15 days old — will be brutally clubbed to death in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Newfoundland during the annual Canadian Seal Hunt; the ice will run red with blood in the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth. The main method of killing seals is with a hakapik, a heavy wooden club with a hammer head and metal hook on the end. The use of guns is also allowed, but the hakapik is preferred because the seal can be killed without damage to its pelt. The hammer head is used to crush the skull, while the hook is used to move the carcass. Because time is of the essence, hunters attempt to kill and skin as many animals in as short a time as possible, resulting in many seals being wounded but managing to escape back into the water where they die a slow and painful death, or often being skinned while still alive.

Even though this cruelty has been condemned world-wide for years by many animal rights organizations including the Humane Society, the Canadian government continues to staunchly defend the barbaric practice largely for economic reasons. But there is much skepticism regarding these claims. “The seal hunt provides very low economic returns for Canada, Newfoundland and individual sealers,” reports the Humane Society. “In light of the negative impact the seal hunt has on Canada’s international reputation, its continuation cannot be justified on economic grounds.”

This year’s slaughter has had a new and alarming additional development: the Canadian government has denied journalists and animal rights activists permits to observe and document the hunt tomorrow morning, even though observation of the seal hunt is a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Read Wayne Pacelle’s blog post for more information.

I’ve had to think long hard about this in light of my previous post, and to be honest, it’s been a bit troubling for me; am I a hypocrite to be so strongly opposed to the slaughter of baby seals in Canada, while at the same time being blasé about killing baby pigs in Texas? After all, the seal hunters would probably cite some of the same reasons for their actions as I did in my recent post about the pigs: they could argue that the seals are overpopulated and they’re just keeping their numbers under control, or that the seals are a nuisance and do much economic damage by decimating crops — codfish — that are normally harvested for human consumption, or (correctly) claim that the hunt is legal and protected by the government. So what’s the difference? Is it because seals are cute, furry and lovable while hogs are ugly, hairy, and smelly? Is it because my rural relatives have been personally affected by feral hogs, while I don’t know anyone directly involved with seals? Is it because I’ve eaten pork products all my life (sorry, veggers) while I would never — ever — consume seal meat? I’m not sure, but I am cognizant of the fact that this double standard doesn’t leave me on very solid moral ground, and anyone reading this is fully justified to call me on it.

Nevertheless, I am still horrified about the carnage that will be taking place on Friday, and have added my signature to a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister at stopthesealhunt.org. I urge you to do so too, or if you feel so inclined, join the boycott of Canadian seafood and other products.

Because this little guy needs your help.


Update 3/30/08 – Hunt Turns Tragic

Three sealers have died and one other is missing and presumed drowned after their fishing vessel capsized while being towed through rough ice by the Canadian Coast Guard on Saturday. The accident occurred off Cape Breton NS while the boat was on its way to cull seal herds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Several hours later, seven more sealers had to be rescued by helicopter when their boat began taking on water and sank. The incidents prompted a fresh wave of appeals from conservationists for Canada to call off its annual seal hunt once and for all.

Oh my God, it’s full of stars!

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I was saddened to learn of the passing of one of my childhood inspirations, science-fiction writer extraordinaire Arthur C. Clarke, who died today at the age of 90 at his home in Sri Lanka from breathing problems associated with post-polio syndrome, which he had battled for years. Known for such classic novels as “Earthlight”, “Islands in the Sky”, and “The Hammer of God” among many others, he will no doubt best be remembered for “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick to produce the movie of the same name. Those of a particular age and proclivity will recall “2001″ as one of those rite-of-passage films best experienced under the influence of certain, shall we say, “attitude-enhancements”, which had a tendency to cause the viewer to exclaim “Oh, wow!” during various pivotal scenes. Nevertheless, even if one didn’t indulge, it was still a mind-bending flick on many levels.

Like the scientist/author Sir Fred Hoyle before him, Clarke often wrote about a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. Not only a brilliant and creative writer, he was also a futurist; in 1945 he predicted the idea of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and advanced the idea of space travel long before rockets were even test-fired.

He wrote his shortest-ever story in 2006 as an entry to Wired magazine’s “Very Short Story” contest. The entire text (“God said, ‘Cancel Program GENESIS.’ The universe ceased to exist.”) was four words longer than the contest rules allowed, but he refused to trim it.

Last year at his 90th birthday celebration, he was asked how he would like to be remembered. “I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter,” he replied. “Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer.”

And that he shall. Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

The Hooker and the Governor

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Hi there, friends! I’m ashamed to say that it’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted, which means I have entirely missed out on blogging about the Eliot Spitzer affair — an event custom-made for snarky wise cracks if ever there was one. But better late than never, as they say, so let me make a couple of observations:

• I’ve read many comments along the lines of “Is anyone/anything really worth $3,000 an hour?” Obviously The Gov thought so, however to put this in perspective, that rate comes to an annual salary of roughly $6.2 million (assuming a 40 hour week and paid vacations). So, to see who else might be getting that sort of money, I consulted Forbes Magazines’ 2007 survey of the highest-paid CEO’s in the corporate world and found that their average annual compensation was $15.2 million — or about the cost of two 7-diamond escorts and one somewhat skankier 3-diamond model. The top dog on the list was Apple CEO Steve Jobs at $646.6 million, followed by Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum at $321.6 million, and one could make the argument that they’ve been screwing the public for years. Of course, whether the Chief Escort Officers on the Forbes list are actually worth that amount is another question. Ashley Alexandra Dupre earned outstanding performance reviews from her clients, probably higher than Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr., for example, who brought home $9 million in ’06 while his company’s stock tanked.

• The high cost of “Kristin’s” er, “professional services” naturally lends itself to all sorts of jokes. This blog is of course way too classy to print such things (hah!), however anyone so inclined can go here for some suitably ribald humor. (Caution: not only unsafe for work, but tasteless too; don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

• Ms. Dupre may have made the understatement of the year when she called her father the day after Emperor’s Club VIP was busted to say that she “was in a little bit of trouble.” However, she’s also shown herself to be a resourceful girl, turning lemons into lemonade by using her 15 minutes of fame to promote her MySpace site and singing career. She better get on the ball fast though, for as Bloomberg.com points out, “Sadly, you’ve already used up six and a half minutes of it with two underwhelming songs.” Like many others, I downloaded “What We Want” and “Move Ya Body”, thinking they might make an interesting addition to my radio show next week. However, I quickly discarded that idea after listening to them, because to be perfectly honest, they suck.

Which, when you think about it, is highly appropriate.

Rumblings in the vast wasteland

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Remember that big dusty box in the living room you used to sit and stare at for hours back in the good old days of 2007? I think it’s called a “television set”, and it’s slowly coming back to life after months of reruns and reality shows. First to return with new material since the Hollywood writers strike was settled last week will be The CW’s sitcom Aliens in America, which kicks off with eight original episodes beginning March 2. By April, most programs that are coming back this season will be on the air. Since sitcoms are produced with a shorter lead time, they’ll initially make up the bulk of returning shows; dramas will begin showing up in late March.

Here’s a list of announced returns, courtesy of The Miami Herald:

March 2: Aliens in America (The CW).

March 3: Everybody Hates Chris (The CW).

March 17: How I Met Your Mother (CBS); The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Two and a Half Men (CBS).

March 23: The Game (The CW)

March 24: CSI: Miami (CBS)

March 30: Cold Case (CBS)

April 2: Criminal Minds (CBS); CSI: New York (CBS)

April 3: My Name Is Earl (NBC); CSI (CBS); Without a Trace (CBS)

April 4: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Numb3rs (CBS)

April 8: NCIS (CBS)

April 10: The Office (NBC); 30 Rock (NBC); Scrubs (NBC)

April 11: Moonlight (CBS)

April 14: One Tree Hill (The CW); Rules of Engagement (CBS)

April 15: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC)

April 21: Gossip Girl (The CW)

April 22: Reaper (The CW); Law & Order (NBC)

April 24: Supernatural (The CW)

Fox and ABC still haven’t issued comprehensive lists of post-strike programming, although ABC will present new episodes of Desperate Housewives and Lost this spring. Some shows won’t be back; for example, the CW has canceled entertainment-news program CW Now and sitcom Girlfriends. And the network hasn’t ordered new episodes of family-on-safari drama Life Is Wild, an ominous sign. On the other hand, NBC has announced that its first-year dramas Chuck and Life won’t be back this spring but have been renewed for the fall. Same goes for Fox’s 24.

Other shows renewed for next season: ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, Lost, Dirty Sexy Money, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Private Practice, Samantha Who? and Pushing Daisies; CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, NCIS, Two and a Half Men, Numb3rs, Without a Trace, and all 200 versions of CSI.

As for me, I can’t say the writer’s strike affected my viewing habits at all — which mainly consist of The Daily Show, (endless!) reruns of Law and Order, and DVD movie rentals. Still, I’m glad the strike is over and scribes can go back to work earning their measly $50,000 per episode. It ain’t easy, you know. To quote the late Hunter S. Thompson, “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason. There’s also a negative side.”

Love, and other forms of temporary insanity

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Today is the day many people have been waiting for all year: the day to tell their dearly beloved sweethearts how much they mean to them and how important they are, and buy them presents, candy and/or flowers. They might also get a cheap card for their husband or wife from Walgreens while they’re at it.

Yes, today is the favorite holiday of cynics (who nearly always refer to Valentine’s Day as “V.D.”), those who believe in their hearts that the significance of the day is way overblown, hyped beyond all common-sense reality by a greedy floral and greeting-card industry who are trying to turn every calendar event (St. Patrick’s day? Arbor Day, anyone? Bueller? Anyone?) into in excuse to purchase cards and gifts. These skeptics are quick to point out that Valentine’s Day is the only holiday that features a weapon-wielding angel as a mascot, and will make comments such as:

“Valentines day is just another stupid holiday created by the manufacturing companies in compliance with jewelry, candy, and cards. They make you feel obliged to get something for the ones you love. PUH LEZZE! It’s just another corrupt system using guilt on the people.”

or

“I hate Valentine’s Day with a passion. I would even go so far as to say that we should dig up Saint Valentine and martyr him all over again just for the fun of it.”

Of course, it could be argued that these are simply the bitter words of sad, lonely, twisted souls who have failed in their relationships due to their own selfishness, and want to ruin the holiday for everyone else. Or, they might possibly have been subjected to this example of romance run amok, which cannot be watched for more than thirty seconds without one wanting to claw out their own eyeballs.

Another possibility could be that they have seen any of numerous recent items in the news which would tend to discourage even the most optimistic of romantics. For example, consider this story from Germany involving a woman who is suing a web site at which she auctioned herself off to the highest bidder for sex. Six men were “winners” of the contest, and one got her pregnant. Unfortunately, she didn’t bother to get any of their names, so she’s suing the site’s operator for their identities so she can force the men to take paternity tests.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, South Korea, mobile phone provider KTF is offering their customers a service called the “Love Detector” which analyzes the voice patterns of the person you’re speaking to, and displays a “love meter” bar on the screen of your handset during the call. “We created this service because we thought people would want to know what others were feeling about them,” said Ahn Hee-jung, a KTF official. After the call is finished, the user receives an analysis of the conversation that breaks down the amount of affection, surprise, concentration and honesty of the other speaker.

In Charleston SC, WKLC-FM, also known as “Rock 105″, is observing the holiday with a special Valentine’s Day contest (as radio stations often do). The prize? A free divorce. The winner’s name will be drawn at random from all entries, and Charleston lawyer Rusty Webb will handle the actual filing. “Sure we can give away concert tickets, and we do,” said station Program Director Jay Nunley. “That’s going to make you happy for a little while. This is the chance to make someone happy for the rest of their life.”

Finally, if you happen to be one of those jaded, cynical, Anti-Valentine type of folks, I’ve got just the perfect job for you: UK Honey Traps, a private detective service based in Worcestershire in the heart of England, is looking for new recruits. Your work will take you to nightclubs and bars, where you’ll be looking to strike up conversations, flirt, give out your phone number, and try to make future dates. The hitch is, you’ll be targeting the husbands or wives of clients who pay you to test the loyalty of their partners, and will document the entire shameful affair for the client with hidden cameras and audio recorders. According to the web site, the agency is looking for “confident, bubbly, outgoing men and women with an ability to think on their feet.” Becoming a honey trapper demands reliability, honesty and accuracy, it says, and because most of the trapping takes place outside office hours, it can offer “an ideal second career.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dear New England Patriots:

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I wasn’t going to write this letter to you, I swear. I’m not usually the sort of person to put their heart on their sleeve like this, but ….

How could you?

How could you have let me down this way, after we’ve been together for so long? I mean, not only have we been with each other for years, we practically grew up together! I was there for you when you needed me; remember those nights we spent in Fenway Park, way back in the good old days, before you moved to Foxborough? They were so very special for me, but I know now they must not have been for you. Even when things got tough, I made excuses for you to all my friends. “You know how guys are,” I told them after that recent nasty videotaping incident. “They must have just been shooting the Jet’s cheerleaders or something, and got the coach’s signals by accident.” How could I have been such a fool to let you use me like that? My God, I was so blind.

But today was the worst ever; you knew it was supposed to be our big day together. I had such great expectations, and was in such a good mood earlier this afternoon. Everything was ready at home, the food, the drinks, and my friends and I were all prepared to celebrate with you … but then … it was almost like you hardly bothered to show up. When you did, you seemed like, all defensive and stuff, and just didn’t show me that magic “spark” that I’d seen so often before. Oh sure, you finally made an effort, but by then it was just way too little, too late.

I have to tell you how disappointed I am. You’ve hurt me so badly, and I’ve decided I just can’t go on like this any more. So I’m sorry, but it’s over between us. I may not have anyone else in my life right now, but I’ve got lots of time, and maybe by next season I’ll find someone who knows how to treat me right and won’t crush my dreams into the ground like a used cigarette butt, the way you did today.

I wish you luck, seriously. Even though we’re through, I’ll always remember the good times we had. In the meantime, I think you should know:

I’m fucking Matt Damon.

Semi-annual madness

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Are you finding that your PC, or some other electronic device in your home, is behind by one hour today? If so, thank the U.S. government’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 which helpfully changed the dates which have traditionally marked the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. Instead of “falling back” last night on the last Sunday in October as they have done for years, the date was pushed up a week to next Sunday, November 4th. However many electronic devices, oblivious to the pronouncements of politicians, dutifully made the change last night anyway as they had been pre-programmed to do.

If you’re running a computer with Windows XP which does not have Service Pack 2 installed (or certain other operating systems for PC and Mac), you can apply the patch found here to fix the dates.

You may know that the idea of saving daylight first sprang from the nimble mind of Benjamin Franklin some 200 years ago when he suggested that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to take advantage of the morning sunlight. Then in 1905, the prominent British outdoorsman William Willett was said to have had “an epiphany” while on an early-morning horseback ride, and proposed the idea of changing the clocks twice a year. The practice was first adopted in wartime Germany in 1916 to keep energy costs low, but has been controversial ever since, with a long history of unintended consequences. When the government tinkered with the dates in 2005 things only became more confusing, and there is little evidence that there has been any significant energy savings which the Policy Act was designed to achieve. Proponents of DST claim it reduces energy use by 1 percent every day it’s in effect, while skeptics contend this is not true and say the extra sunlight spurs more errands and trips to visit friends and family.

I personally think the whole idea is absurd; the hassles far outweigh any benefits, and I propose that DST should be renamed “Daylight Stupid Time”. Maybe I’ll move to Arizona.

Serio-comic tragedy

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

It’s not often that events in a newspaper comic strip are reported in the “real” news, but there’s considerable buzz in the media this week about the death of a character in the “Funky Winkerbean” strip. Creator Tom Batiuk has never shied away from tackling “serious” issues such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism and censorship, but the recent storyline concerning Lisa Moore and her battle with breast cancer since 1999 is certainly one of the most ambitious subjects to appear in the “funny pages”. As the end has grown ominously closer in the last month or so (and despite a mountain of letters and emails from readers pleading with Batiuk to spare her), Lisa finally succumbed to the disease in the strip published last Thursday, crossing over the veil of tears hand-in-hand with Masky McDeath (looking strangely like The Phantom of the Opera). An archive of the last month of the series can be found here.

The storyline has generated a surprising amount of controversy; some readers have sent angry letters of complaint to their newspapers, feeling that weighty matters such as disease and death are inappropriate alongside the likes of Garfield, Dagwood, Hagar the Horrible, et. al. Others feel anything that increases cancer awareness is a Good Thing, and anyone who has had to deal with the grief of losing a loved one to the green monster couldn’t help but be touched by the delicate way Batiuk has handled it with his characters. As one commenter on The Comics Curmudgeon put it:

At least FW puts a more human, imperfect face on death and dying, and one that includes struggle, regret, suffering and attempts at closure. It sucks to lose someone from cancer; it’s not easy and it’s not pretty. But there is a certain grace in surviving the struggle, getting through the deep dark emotional stuff, and moving on … not stuff I really want to read in the “funny” papers, but I give FW snaps for dealing with all the imperfect, unfunny aspects of illness and death.

Batiuk has stated that his reasoning for pursuing the plotline was inspired by his own personal battle against prostate cancer, and he has also released a book entitled “Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe” which contains all the strips from her initial diagnosis up to her passing, along with source material on breast cancer including early detection, information sources, support systems, and health care. Proceeds will be donated to cancer research.

Following this traumatic event, Batiuk will kick off an all-new story line for the strip with the launch of Funky Winkerbean: Generation Next. The flash-forward storyline follows the lives of the characters 10 years into the future, focusing on the sons and daughters of the strip’s original core group. Les Moore, who was an awkward teen when the series began in 1972, will be nearly 50; at the end of this week, his newly-elder character was previewed talking to a psychologist about the events following Lisa’s death.

FW is not the only strip to face “non-funny” issues; For Better Or For Worse is dealing with one of it’s central characters suffering a stroke, and “B.C.” frequently takes on religion. Perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend; since so many of the funnies are now taking a serious bent, allow me to suggest a few plot lines that the other strips might like to explore:

Dilbert: Fed up with years of abuse by his pointy-headed boss, Dilbert finally “snaps” one day, and brings a semi-automatic rifle to the office where he shoots The Boss, Dogbert, and several other co-workers to death.

Blondie: Dagwood, Blondie, Herb and Tootsie become swingers. They’re engaged in a serious wife-swapping orgy one night when Alexander and Cookie return unexpectedly and catch their parents en flagrante delicto. Years of therapy and marriage counseling follow.

Garfield: Garfield and Odie slip out of the house unnoticed by Jon, who is busily trying to woo his latest girlfriend. The dog and cat are picked up by animal control officers and euthanized after three days of efforts to determine their owner are unsuccessful. (Look carefully at the image on the right: do you see either of them wearing a collar, ID, or rabies tag? I didn’t think so.)

Dennis The Menace: Up until now, Dennis has been frozen in time as a mischievous five-year old. Announcing a “new direction” for the strip, the creators begin aging Dennis in real time; he becomes a juvenile delinquent, starts smoking crack, joins a teen street gang, and is finally shot by police while holding up a liquor store. However, he recovers from his wounds, finds religion, and goes on a mission to show his former gang-mates the Healing Power of Jesus.

Marvin: The cute, rascally, lovable, sagacious babe is unexpectedly and tragically taken by SIDS.

The Lockhorns: This one is almost too obvious. Leroy divorces Loretta so that he can carouse with the shapely young women he is frequently portrayed as flirting with in the strip. Unfortunately however, his new-found freedom doesn’t last long: he has a heart attack and dies while having sex with a 22-year old on a cruise ship, and since he was always too dim-witted to keep up with paperwork, he never bothered to update his will after divorcing Loretta and she gets everything. (At least he doesn’t have to eat her cooking any more.)

Beetle Bailey: Beetle and Sarge are sent to combat duty in Iraq where they are seriously maimed by an improvised explosive device.

Peanuts: Charlie Brown is arrested for illegally downloading mp3′s. The rest of the Peanuts gang attempt to organize a musical show to raise funds for his defense, but in an ironic plot twist, the kids are foiled when they realize they don’t have performance rights for the tunes they want to sing. Chuck is released from the slammer only after paying a $220,000 fine to the RIAA.

The Family Circus (man, you can see this one coming, can’t you?): Since a recurring theme of the series is that seven-year-old Billy often substitutes as cartoonist and draws the Sunday strip in a childish scrawl, authorities decide to investigate the family for possible violation of nepotism and child labor laws. They discover that, not only is little Billy drawing the strip that appears in US papers because Big Bill is frequently too drunk to hold a pen, the child has also been forced by his father to crank out a full-time knock-off comic called (loosely translated) “Carnival of Relatives” in Chinese that appears daily in Peking, Hong Kong, and a variety of other Asian markets. Obtaining a subpoena for the cartoonist’s hard drive, investigators are subsequently shocked to find obscene photographs of 3-year old Jeffy and 5-year old Dolly, and realize that Bill is a major player in the kiddie porn market. Bill claims that the real culprit is an invisible gremlin named “Not Me”, but police arrest him anyway. In the final strip, as he is led off in handcuffs, he tells the audience to “bite me”, and kicks Barfy on his way out the door for good measure while the ghost of Dead Grandpa Al hovers in the background, hanging his head in shame.

This has got to be only the tip of the iceberg, and there must be a ton of other possibilities. Readers?

You want a McSubpoena with that?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

News item: McDonald’s Corp. is lobbying the publishers of several dictionaries in the UK, including the renowned Oxford English Dictionary, to remove the word “McJob” from their pages. As Time Magazine tells it:

First used some 20 years ago in the United States to describe low-paying, low-skill jobs that offered little prospect of advancement, the term “McJob” was popularized by the author Douglas Coupland in his 1991 slacker ode Generation X, which chronicled the efforts of a “lost” generation of twenty-somethings to escape their dead-end jobs in an attempt to find meaning in life.

Oxford defines the word as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector.” The fast-food giant protests that the definition is “outdated and insulting”, and instead wants the word to “reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding, and offers skills that last a lifetime,” according to a company representative.

Please. My very first job while still in high school was flipping burgers at my local Golden Arches (an “old school” McDonald’s like the one pictured on the right), and the only time the job was “stimulating” was when an especially good-looking girl would come up to the window to place an order. The window guys had a signal for this event, and would shout out “88 on the front window, please” to the rest of the crew. The customers had no clue what this meant, but to our fellow McEmployees this was code for “Hey guys, check out the gazongas on this babe.” I still occasionally use the phrase in jest to this day, so I guess you could indeed say that working at McDonald’s taught me “skills that last a lifetime.” However, I doubt this is exactly what the company had in mind.

It is well known within the industry that Mickey Dee’s has a trademark on any food item beginning with the prefix “Mc”, including their current menu fare as well as any other food item, irregardless of the likelihood of it being offered at the chain. Thus, not only could you not sell the public a generic “English McMuffin” or “McShake”, even a “McBanana”, “McTofu”, or a “McGrilled McPeanutbutter and McCheese Sandwich” would probably get you in hot water as well.

But does McDonald’s have the legal rights to any word beginning with the letters M-C, context notwithstanding? Probably not, but that’s not stopping the company from throwing its considerable weight behind an effort to pressure Oxford into changing the dictionary. They recently managed to convince a member of Parliament to introduce a motion condemning the pejorative use of the term, and have mounted a street campaign to gather thousands of signatures on a petition that will be formally presented to the publisher next month.

Current (and past) McDonald’s employees are less enthusiastic. One referred to the low pay; another complained of being on their feet for eight or more hours a day. Another employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated that serving customers beat his old position as a factory sweeper. But, he added, “it’s just a job.”

And for many people like me, it was the source of their first paycheck — and you can take that to the McBank.

Oops.

Memorial Day

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

As a kid between the ages of about 10 and 15 back home in Massachusetts, Memorial Day was always one of the biggest days of the year for me. Not only did it mean backyard cookouts, or a picnic in the park, but the day heralded the official start of Summer — which meant that vacation from school was not far behind.

It was also one of my favorite days because of our town’s Memorial Day Parade. You should understand that in the tiny town of Hamilton where I grew up, there was very little excitement. The two big events of the year were July 4th — when the town hosted a carnival, midway, fireworks and bonfire — and our one and only parade each Memorial Day. When you’re a small-town kid, parades are a Big Deal, and I was always thrilled by the pageantry of the uniforms and the marching bands. (I guess maybe I had a little of The Music Man in me, which was popular around the same time.) Every year I would bedeck my bicycle with red, white and blue crepe paper streamers through the spokes and flags on the handlebars so I could ride it in the parade alongside the other kids who did the same. People would wave at me and applaud my decorative efforts, and I loved it.

At the same time, however, the true meaning of Memorial Day was not lost on me. I remember from my American History lesson:

Memorial Day was first officially observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the headstones of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery after a proclamation issued by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was a holiday primarily observed in the North until after World War I, when the focus changed from honoring soldiers killed in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in any war.

In the years of my youth from about 1958 through 1963, the holiday was almost all about paying homage to the veterans of World War II, which was not exactly a distant memory then. To put this in perspective, think about fifteen years ago today, when the big stories were the devastation of South Florida by Hurricane Andrew, and President George Bush The Elder puking on the Prime Minister during a visit to Japan (Bill Clinton would be elected to succeed Bush later that same year). Then remember the first Gulf War in 1990. Doesn’t seem like that long ago, does it? That’s how folks in my home town thought about the Big War in Europe. Most vets were fairly young, in their 40′s and 50′s, and there was a strong feeling of pride, honor, and appreciation for these former soldiers who had, quite literally, saved the world from fascism and evil.

Our town parade always started at the Hamilton Cemetery where local victims of the war had been laid to rest, and after a solemn ceremony including a 21-gun salute, the parade commenced down the main street to downtown. Naturally, there was considerable sorrow for those who had lost their lives, but it was tempered with a resolute pride that they had done so for a worthy and just cause, in the defense of freedom.

Today, of course, it’s a different story, as American pride hasn’t been quite the same since WWII. In large part this is a legacy of Vietnam, when returning veterans were (unjustly) spat upon as “baby-killers”, and America was forced to end the conflict, if not in defeat, at least without accomplishing its military objectives. This was a terrible time in our country’s history, not just because of the casualties on the battlefield, but for the polarizing effect the war had on those at home. Not since the Civil War has a conflict so divided brother from brother, turned friend against friend, or neighbor against neighbor. The political fight at home took center stage even from the military theater of operations, and in some ways we’ve never been the same since.

In the intervening years, it seems that to those who think of Memorial Day as more than just a long weekend marking the beginning of summer fun, there has been much less pride and a lot more sorrow, which has been particularly true during the last few years of our Iraq involvement. Let me make it perfectly clear that I make a huge distinction between our soldiers who are over there doing their jobs with honor as best as they can, and Dubya and his gang of neo-con idiots who got us into this mess in the first place. It’s no secret that I strongly disagree with our country’s Iraq policy, nor do I subscribe to the theory that “if we don’t fight them in the streets there, we’ll be fighting them in the streets here”. To me, the reason we’re caught in the middle of this civil war is simple: Bush had a score to settle, and he values oil more than blood. There’s no longer any viable way for us to “win” in Iraq, at least in the traditional sense of the enemy laying down their arms in surrender, and the sooner we get the hell out of there the better.

Yet politics are meaningless to the men and women in Iraq who are doing the dirty work, following the orders of their superiors, taking the risks, and most importantly, losing their lives — and they have my utmost respect. The fact that many of us question the wisdom of continuing our involvement in Iraq in no way diminishes the sacrifices made by the 3,400-plus Americans who have died in this war that is more than four years old. Regardless of my political opinions, I honor their memory, service, courage, and the fact that they gave their lives for this country. I will say a silent prayer on Memorial Day for the families of those who grieve over the loss of a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.

So if you know a veteran, tell him or her “thanks” for their service.

And to George Bush, say “enough”.

Battle over internet radio continues

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

The movement to save internet radio from the disastrous jacked-up recording industry royalty fees that will potentially shut down most webcasters is gaining momentum.

Background

If you’re unfamiliar with this issue, it’s a fairly complex subject, but here’s a quick recap: last March, a 3-judge panel called the Copyright Royalty Board, or CRB, voted to change royalty fees paid by net broadcasters from a straight percentage-of-profits model to a “per-song, per-listener” scheme, regardless of any income (or lack thereof) the station might have from advertising, subscriptions, or donations. Representing an increase of 300 to 1200 percent, the new rates which go into effect on July 15th are retroactive to January 2006 and will put most stations — including many Public Radio outlets — out of business. (See this Newsweek article for more info.)

To put this in perspective, imagine for a moment you have an income of $40,000 a year and you’re taxed at 15% by the IRS, so you pay them $6,000. Then one day you get a letter informing you that the new tax amount on your $40,000 income will be $72,000 (a 12x increase). Wouldn’t make much sense, would it — how can you pay more than you make? Now imagine you have zero income, but your tax is still $72,000! WTF??

Congress Gets Involved

In the weeks since the initial ruling, a grassroots movement has sprung up among internet broadcasters and their listeners seeking to overturn the CRB’s flawed decision. Two bills (H.R.2060 in the House, and S.1353 in the Senate), together known as the “Internet Radio Equality Act“, would establish fair and reasonable fees paid to those who create music, while assuring that net radio will not be killed off. Considering that most legislation languishes on Capitol Hill with very little interest from the general public, these measures have picked up phenomenal support in a very short period of time, as thousands of people (including myself, and hopefully some of y’all as well) have written or phoned their elected representatives to tell them that they do not want internet radio to become extinct.

Predictably, the RIAA (through its affiliated organization that actually collects the fees, known as SoundExchange) immediately cranked up the rhetoric by issuing a press release referring to the legislation as a “money grab by corporate webcasters”. Among other patently false statements, they claim that the bills are a “blatant attempt to strip artists and record labels of their hard-won royalties for the use of their sound recordings on Internet Radio”. (Click here to read a short article debunking the RIAA’s absurd propaganda.)

Business Week magazine’s online edition recently took an in-depth look at both sides of this issue, first presenting an article dated May 11th by SoundExchange director John Simson. At last count it had received over 60 comments, nearly all of them taking the view expressed in the words of one reader who said, “what a transparent load of crap from Mr. Simson.” In contrast, four days later BW published the reasoned viewpoint of Laurie Joulie of Roots Music Association to much more favorable reader response; it’s therefore quite easy to see where public sentiments lie on the matter.

Latest Skirmish

As a direct result of the outpouring of support for the House and Senate bills, SoundExchange got a letter last week from Representatives Howard L. Berman (D-CA) and Howard Coble (R-NC). Acting as part of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, the Congressmen urged the RIAA to “initiate good faith private negotiations with small commercial and noncommercial webcasters with the shared goal of ensuring their continued operations and viability.” Sensing the tide of public opinion turning against them and fearing legislative intervention, the RIAA has made a so-called “compromise offer” to defer imposition of new fees to what it terms “small webcasters” until 2010, while proceeding with the increases as planned for everyone else. But this alleged “compromise” is a Trojan Horse that would still stifle internet radio. For one thing, it doesn’t offer to change the new fee structure, only to postpone it. This would be like the IRS in our hypothetical example above saying, “You still owe us the money, but we’ll give you until 2010 to pay it.” For another thing:

“The proposal made by SoundExchange would throw ‘large webcasters’ under the bus and end any ‘small’ webcaster’s hopes of one day becoming big,” SaveNetRadio spokesperson Jake Ward said. “Under Government-set revenue caps, webcasters will invest less, innovate less and promote less. Under this proposal, internet radio would become a lousy long-term business, unable to compete effectively against big broadcast and big satellite radio – artists, webcasters, and listeners be damned.”

SaveNetRadio said that this kind of charging w ould put internet radio out of business, and is not what was intended by US lawmakers.

“A standard that would set a royalty rate more than 300% of a webcaster’s revenue was not what Congress had in mind, and it must be adjusted if the industry is going to survive.”

You can still help

The Internet Radio Equality Act still needs your support. Even if you’ve already contacted your representative, don’t let off the pressure. This sort of lobbying is exactly how things are accomplished in Washington, so please use the handy tool below which will provide information regarding who to contact as well as some talking points if you need them:


The I.R.E.A. would establish that webcasters pay a fair and reasonable fee of 7.5% of their revenue in royalties, the same rate paid by satellite radio broadcasters. Traditional over-the-air broadcast radio does not pay anything because labels consider airtime to be promotional, an arrangement that has existed for the last 70 years. It’s based on the long-accepted idea that if you hear a song you like on the radio, there’s a good chance you might buy a CD by that artist. However, with recent CD sales in free-fall for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being the stupidity and arrogance of the record companies) the RIAA is becoming increasingly desperate, and terrestrial radio is very likely to be their next target.

More on that in another post.

I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

It sounds like a joke, or a news headline that might have been thought up at The Onion, but unfortunately it’s real: embattled Attorney General Alberto “I Can’t Recall” Gonzales is proposing a new crime of “attempted” copyright infringement. No longer will it be necessary for you internet music and software pirates out there to actually infringe on someone’s intellectual property; all you would have to do is “attempt” it. Furthermore, under the A.G.’s proposals, you could be imprisoned for life under certain circumstances for using pirated software. Forget robbery, rape, and murder: finally, someone is cracking down on the real criminals in our society!

Gonzales and the Bush administration are pushing Congress to pass a bill known as the Intellectual Property Protection Act (IPPA) of 2007, which is likely to receive the enthusiastic support of the movie and music industries, and would represent the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law in years. Apparently it’s not enough for the RIAA to sue college students, dead people, and others thousands of dollars each for downloading tunes such as Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film“. The new laws would give authorities broad powers to, among other things:

  • Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights.
  • Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC “intended to be used in any manner” to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture.
  • Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement.

This is just incredible, and I hardly even know what to say. With all the serious problems this nation faces at home and abroad, this is what these guys find important? It is very disturbing to me that we seem to be getting closer to a police state every day as our civil and digital rights are gradually and continually being chipped away by this administration. At this rate, soon even thinking about downloading music illegally will become a crime.

The good news is that so far the IPPA has not gotten any sponsors, which it needs to go forward, and that Gonzales’ current low regard on Capitol Hill could inhibit support for the measure. New testimony presented this Tuesday revealed that in 2004, Gonzales pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft (who was in a hospital bed recuperating from pancreatitis at the time) to certify the legality of Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program. Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales, but the White House certified the program anyway. The Attorney General has been less than forthcoming about the matter to say the least, and his selective amnesia and general air of incompetence have not served him well in committee hearings. Further testimony next week by Gonzales’ former White House liaison, Monica Goodling (under a grant of immunity), is likely to erode his credibility even more. Yet, don’t count him out by a long shot, as respected political columnist Margaret Carlson reports on Bloomberg.com:

How interesting that World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was being forced to negotiate his resignation, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is sailing along like Mark Twain, with rumors of his demise greatly exaggerated.

It’s shocking that Gonzales continues to hold down one of the most sensitive jobs in Washington now that his cluelessness has been exposed for all the world to see.

He still rises each morning to run a Justice Department he knows almost nothing about, nor who decided to get rid of eight U.S. attorneys. He knows just enough to swear that no one at the White House had anything to do with it.

Gonzales holds onto his lease with a political loyalty so blind and unbending as to trump every other instinct, including embarrassment over barely being able to recall his own name before Congress.

The one bright spot is that as I write this, there are only 614 days left of this national disaster called the Bush administration. We can’t get these morons out of office soon enough.

“To those who saved the world”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Try to imagine the following scenario:

Tonight, you and your family go to bed at the usual time, and at around 2 AM you are fast asleep when the sound of a distant rumble wakes you. At first you try to ignore it and go back to sleep but soon there is another louder “boom” and you know with certainty that something is not right. The wail of far-away sirens filters through your bedroom window, and as you look outside from your front porch you see an eerie yet strangely beautiful pinkish-blue glow on the horizon. You try to call the authorities to get some information about what is going on, but no one seems to know, or be willing to tell you, anything. Meanwhile, the sirens grow louder, and closer.

Anxious hours pass with no word until just before dawn, when a man in a military uniform appears at your doorway. He tells you that you and your family must evacuate immediately. He will not explain why. The only thing you will be allowed to bring with you is one suitcase containing whatever important papers you have: deeds, bank notes, birth certificates, etc. You can bring nothing else: no food, clothing or other possessions. Even your beloved pets must stay behind. You are given only a few minutes to gather your papers, and you leave your home without even the slightest idea of where you are going or when you will be back.

You will never return.

This may sound like the plot of a bad science-fiction “alien invasion” movie, but this would have been the reality of your life exactly 21 years ago tonight if you were one of the 50,000 residents of Pripyat, in the Ukraine area of the former Soviet Union. And the single word that was the source of your calamity that night has since become synonymous with the dark side of “the peaceful atom” the world over: Chernobyl.

Today, Pripyat is a ghost town, a slice of mid-80′s Soviet life frozen in time; in some places, laundry still hangs on frayed lines. Pripyat was a modern city at the time of the 1986 disaster, built in high style by the government to house plant workers. If you have Google Earth, you can “visit” it and roam its deserted streets; just set the coordinates to 51 24 20N, 30 03 25E in the input box, and you’ll be plopped right in the city center. (Tip: simply copy and paste the coordinate string from this post, or if you already have Google Earth installed, just click here to open the site automatically.) The nuclear power plant itself is located just two miles to the southeast, and if you zoom in, you can clearly see with considerable detail the sarcophagus of the doomed reactor #4. The hastily-built structure has not aged well, and is leaky and unstable. A massive construction project to replace it with the world’s largest dome, called the Shelter Implementation Plan, has been envisioned for years, but government red tape and difficulty funding the enormous cost of the project (estimates range from $750 million up to $2.5 billion USD) have resulted in numerous delays. However, the present contractor, the German firm GRS, claims that the sarcophagus will be enclosed and the site made “ecologically safe” by the end of 2008. It remains to be seen if this goal will be met.

Even in the virtual world of Google Earth, it is a strange feeling to look around and imagine the scene of disaster: the panic, fear, and also the bravery that occurred that night and in the days that followed. If you really want a close-up look, it’s possible to actually go there; the government issues tightly-controlled permits to visit the site for about $150 per person, although much paperwork (including, one would assume, multiple waivers of liability for any future physical effects) and a portable dosimeter is required for entry. If this interests you at all, click here for details; frankly, for my money Google Earth is a lot cheaper, and safer too.

However, Michegan native Mark Resnicoff has been interested in the events surrounding the disaster for years, and after striking up an online correspondence with a former resident of Pripyat, traveled to the area in 2006 to observe it firsthand. His photoessay, entitled “My Journey to Chernobyl: 20Years After The Disaster”, can be found here.

Another fascinating web site that lets you explore the area on the back of a motorcycle is called Kidd Of Speed. It is the story of Elena Filatova of Kiev, whose father is a nuclear physicist researching the accident, and her journeys through and around Chernobyl on her big-ass Kawasaki Ninja motor bike. Her pictures and narrative will let you see the site through her eyes, and give you goose bumps.

Aslo, see this site for another slide show of photos.

chernobyl_memorial.jpgThe twenty-first anniversary of the disaster is being commemorated in various ways today; many are remembering those who died, particularly the workers and firefighters at the plant who raced into the shattered reactor trying to contain the damage, knowing full well that such action meant their certain death. A memorial to those men (right) is erected not far from the site, funded and built by their comrades. An inscription on it reads, “To those who saved the world.”

Area dignitaries have also marked the occasion by visiting the site, and some, including Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, have even talked about re-developing the 20-mile circle around the plant known as the “zone of exclusion”. While visiting a school near Kiev today, Mr. Yushchenko told reporters, “I am convinced that the Chernobyl zone is coming alive, and step by step, we will begin to develop the possibilities of this territory.” Even though Pripyat will not officially be suitable for human habitation for another 300 to 600 years, a few people still live not far away (roughly 10 km), and other parts of the zone where radiation contamination has not been as great may be safe for farming certain types of crops (such as those for bio-fuels), or forestry. Projects also being considered include a nature preserve that would take advantage of a wildlife resurgence in the area (mainly due to the absence of human impact), and a proposal to build an international science center at the site to study the lingering effects of the accident.

In addition to the memorial services, many activists are marking this day, as they have every other anniversary of the disaster, by calling attention to the dangers of nuclear power. A large demonstration in Washington, DC, today led to the arrest of at least 24 individuals who put ashes and red liquid on the steps of the Pentagon; other anti-nuke protest rallies were held in cities worldwide.

Moreover, a growing chorus of concern is being heard from those who draw a dark parallel between the development of nuclear technology to produce energy and the development of nuclear weapons. Dr. Joan Russow of Canada’s Global Compliance Research Project, writes:

“It is clear that nuclear energy with its continued risk of accidents, with its unresolved waste disposal problem, is not a solution to the issue of climate change … The designation of “peaceful use” has eclipsed the inextricable link between civil nuclear energy and the development of nuclear arms. Uranium mining states such as Canada have used the “peaceful use” clause [in the Global Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty] to justify the continued export of uranium to India and Pakistan in the 1960s, and to nuclear arms states with the proviso that Canadian uranium must only be used for peaceful purpose [however,] there is a little bit of Canadian uranium throughout the US nuclear arsenal.”

In her book “Nuclear Madness”, Helen Caldicott sounds an even graver warning about the hazardous byproducts of nuclear development for “peaceful” use:

“As a physician, I contend that nuclear technology threatens life on our planet with extinction. If present trends continue, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink will soon be contaminated with enough radioactive pollutants to pose a potential health hazard far greater than any plague humanity has ever experienced.”

With the world in general, and the USA in particular, continuing to demand cheap, reliable energy, there will be no easy answers. Is nuclear power our friend, a clean and reasonably safe way to reduce our dependency on imported oil? Or is it the unseen monster, hiding in our bedroom closets until we fall asleep, waiting to wake us up to a radioactive nightmare?

I think I know what the residents of Pripyat would have thought on this night, exactly twenty-one years ago.

But it couldn’t happen here.

Could it?

by Mr. Toast. Photos © Waclaw Gudowski

VT Tribute Photo

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

vt-logo.jpg

Click the thumbnail above for a high resolution image of our Virginia Tech tribute photo.

Return to “normal”

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Classes resumed today at Virginia Tech, and students will be attempting to go on with their academic and personal lives after last week’s shooting rampage. Frankly, I think many of them will find this very difficult if not impossible. How do you get back into the routine of classes, study, term papers, tests, and grades, not to mention the social scene that is such a large part of college life, after a tragedy of this magnitude? However, VT is being extremely understanding about this and allowing students to base their grade for the semester solely on work completed prior to April 16 if they so choose. While the administration feels that it is beneficial to the student’s emotional well-being to finish the semester, they are also nevertheless offering them the option to withdraw from classes and “remove themselves from campus” until next fall without penalty. Those interested can find further information at the school’s web site.

This was a very sad weekend, as memorial services and funerals for many of the slain students and faculty took place on Saturday and Sunday. Other services will be held nationwide this week, including a candlelight vigil tonight in the main hall of the University of Texas. On Friday, hundreds of students and faculty at our school came together at our football stadium to form a “Living VT Logo”; a framed photo of the human logo, together with thousands of dollars collected at the event to benefit the families of the victims, has been sent to the VT administration to show our sympathy and solidarity. A low-res screen grab off the local TV news report is shown here; I’ll try to post a better copy of the photo if I can find one.

As incongruous as it may at first seem, this tragedy makes me appreciate living in the USA. Stop and think for just a moment what life is like for ordinary citizens in countries like Iraq, where the massacre of innocent civilians is a daily affair. Imagine not being able to leave your home on any day of the week without the real and warranted fear that you will be killed or maimed in a senseless, random act of violence. On the same day as the VT tragedy, at least 65 Iraqis died in four separate attacks; 85 the next day, 50 the next … and still it goes on. Total civilian casualties in Iraq number, by some estimates, more than 100,000 over the last four years. I don’t mention this to diminish last week’s events at Tech in any way, and I realize there is a danger of appearing callous by comparing the misfortunes of others in an attempt to somehow make one feel “better”. I am also aware that in the last week many people seem to be using this tragedy to further their own particular political agenda: for example, the gun control lobby claims that if stronger laws had been effect, the shooting might have never happened, while the pro-gun lobby argues that if any of the students or faculty had been in possession of a firearm they might have been able to stop Cho before the carnage escalated. The Korean immigrant community and mental health advocates have also weighed in with their perspective, along with everyone else who has an axe to grind. This is not a crowd I want to join. But let me just say that I am thankful to live in a country where events such as those last week are still a rare occurrence, and not a fact of daily life. I pray that someday they don’t happen at all, anywhere.

Tragic irony

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Like the rest of the world, we are shocked and saddened by the recent events at Virginia Tech. It has hit our small community especially hard, as our college town has much in common with Blacksburg, VA; the population is roughly the same, and the local State University is an important fixture in the area. There is a palpable sense on campus today that this tragedy could have easily happened here.

Virginia Tech’s web site has been converted to a memorial page, with links to information and resources to help folks there cope with this senseless tragedy. In a sad twist of irony, there is also a link on the site that leads to an “All About Blacksburg” page, which contains the following paragraph under “Quick Facts”:

The Town of Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus experience very little crime. In a recent National Citizens Survey, 91 percent of Blacksburg’s residents reported that they feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Somehow I expect that figure has declined this week. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.