Best Viewed with IE or Opera. Sorry, Firefox works, but loses some sidebar layout,
'my profile' and other stuff... Anybody with a fix, please leave a comment. Many thanks in advance.

That said, if you must use Firefox (and I don't blame you, it's become my browser of choice, too)
...get the "IE Tab" extension. This allows you to view problem pages with the IE rendering engine. Very cool!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Police Reform Would Save Civilian Lives

By Radley Balko
In my last column,
I outlined the problem of the "militarization" of America's civilian
police departments, chiefly through the increasing proliferation and
use of SWAT teams.

As you might have seen on shows like "Dallas SWAT" or "COPS," these
raids typically involve kicking down doors, "flash grenades" and heavy
weaponry, and they're increasingly being used for drug policing and for
crimes as slight as possession of marijuana or gambling. This week, I'd
like to offer a few policy recommendations to address some of the more
troubling aspects of this trend.
___continued...click link below >>>


CONTINUED...

The most obvious recommendation is, of course, to end the drug war.
Nearly 35 years since President Nixon declared that "war" and 25 years
after President Reagan reinvigorated it, it is unquestionably a
complete and utter failure. Use of illicit drugs has remained relatively constant.



Meanwhile, deaths from drug overdoses have more than tripled, the prison population has soared and the purity of illicit drugs on the black market is up or unchanged, while the cost has dropped dramatically.



Of course, given today's political landscape, ending drug
prohibition is a pipe dream (excuse the pun). So let's look at the next
best solution — reining in the SWAT teams. SWAT teams do serve a
useful purpose — to provide a swift, overpowering response in
those emergency situations where a suspect presents an immediate threat
to the public safety.



In this capacity, SWAT teams are not only appropriate, they've
proven tremendously effective. We should get SWAT teams and similar
paramilitary police units out of the business of serving search and
arrest warrants and return them to the function originally envisioned
for them — defusing dangerous situations like hostage takings,
barricades and apprehending fugitives. Leave warrant service and other
routine police procedures to traditional police officers.



Of course, that policy too is likely to be met with some resistance.
So here are a few other, less drastic measures that would seem to be
pretty intuitive:



End the Pentagon giveaways. One big reason
paramilitary tactics have become so common in domestic policing is that
Congress has made surplus military equipment available to civilian
police departments, which they then use to form a SWAT team. Civilian
police officers shouldn't be outfitted with equipment designed for war.
The use of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military
equipment on civilians creates scenes more appropriate for police
states and military juntas, not free societies.



Rescind asset forfeiture policies. Asset forfeiture
enables police departments to sell off the property of drug suspects,
keeping much of the revenue for themselves. Even suspects later
acquitted or never even charged must then sue in court for the return
of their property or reimbursement. Even then, success is rare, and
court costs can run higher than the value of the assets seized. Such
policies create corrupt incentives and invite overly aggressive drug
policing.



Tighten search warrant standards. Too many of the
several hundred botched raids I've researched happened because police
collected tips from shady confidential informants, then failed to do
enough corroborating investigation to verify the information. It
doesn't take much evidence to procure a conventional search warrant.
Using a SWAT team to kick down someone's door ought to require a bit
more. Mere possession of an illicit substance should never be enough to
merit these kinds of tactics. If we must use SWAT teams to serve drug
warrants, it should only be in cases where it's clear the suspect is
distributing, is armed and is likely to react to a warrant with
violence.



More transparency. Search warrants should be
tracked from the time they're applied for to the time they're executed.
Once a warrant has run its course, it should be kept in a database,
accessible to the public. Names of innocent suspects and informants
could, of course, be kept confidential.



It's difficult to assert things like exactly how many SWAT raids go
down in this country, how many are "no-knock" raids and how many are
conducted in error because very few police departments keep such
statistics. There's no reason why they shouldn't. Each of these raids
should also be video recorded. Too many raids I've researched that have
ended in gunfire have turned on the word of police versus the word of
suspects and witnesses, when it comes to whether or not the raiding
officers knocked before entering and whether or not they gave the
suspect the appropriate amount of time to answer. A video recording
would put such disputes to rest.



More accountability. Botched raids should be
reviewed by external review boards, preferably staffed with civilians.
Many cities already have such review boards in place to deal with other
police brutality issues but have limited their jurisdiction when it
comes to botched and erroneous police raids. Review boards are a great
idea, but they should be permitted to review not only the conduct of
police officers, but the judgment of the prosecutors and judges who
sign off on these warrants, too. In too many jurisdictions, judicial
oversight of the warrant process has degenerated into a rubber-stamp
exercise. Scrutiny from an independent review board would be helpful.



We also need to remove the immunity we grant to police officers and
government agencies when it comes to mistaken raids that result in
death or injury. Qualified immunity (granted to individual officers) and sovereign immunity
(granted to the government entities that employ them) raise the burden
of proof so high that it becomes extremely difficult for the victims of
botched or mistaken raids to recover damages.



Sadly, it's the threat of lost revenue, not concern for civil
liberties, that seems most likely to spur governments to reform. In the
few cases where a botched raid has resulted in real policy changes,
it's been after a high-profile raid resulted in an expensive settlement
or threats from the government's insurer to revoke coverage unless
local officials implemented reforms.



Most of these suggestions would be relatively inexpensive. Many are
simply changes in procedure. If mistakes are indeed as rare as
defenders of SWAT raids attest, there should be no problem with local
governments and individual officers agreeing to more transparency and
accountability when it comes to the citizens they serve nor to assuming
full liability when their actions or the policies they've endorsed lead
to unnecessary violence against innocents or nonviolent offenders.



Radley Balko is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute
specializing in "nanny state" and consumer choice issues, including
alcohol and tobacco control, drug prohibition, obesity and civil
liberties. Separately, he maintains the
The Agitator weblog. The
opinions expressed in his column for FOXNews.com are his own and are
not to be associated with Cato unless otherwise indicated.


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books can teach us...click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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don't-see-ya stare...click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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econ 101...click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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keep it cheap and legal...click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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pretty crumby deal...click on picture to "embiggen" view........

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Reason - Arthur Lee, R.I.P.

The auteur behind one of the most beautiful and stirring (and often brilliantly dark) works of popular music of the 20th century, the LP Forever Changes by his band Love, has died of leukemia. (He was also, incidentally, victim of a mindless application of California's "three strikes" law that had him sentenced to 8 to 12 years for firing a gun, illegally possessed, into the air. He only ended up serving six, and part of the charge was dismissed later because of prosecutorial misconduct.)

The album remains an endless source of wonder, ornate orchestrated psychedelia of a sort few could emulate or match, and standing on Sunset Blvd. on a warm-not-hot and gleaming blue Los Angeles late summer afternoon watching him and his latest incarnation of the band emit with joy and precision some of its best songs at Sunset Junction a few years back was, simply, a really great afternoon in my life, and thank you Mr. Lee. "This is the time and life that I am living/And I'll face each day with a smile/For the time that I've been given's such a little while/And the things that I must do consist of more than style/There are places that I am going/There'll be time for you to start all over/This is the time and this is the time and/It is time, time, time, time, time...."
Posted by Brian Doherty at August 4, 2006 10:58 AM

SOURCE:
Hit and Run

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Hit and Run - Nick Gillespie - Where's Harry Truman?

This is almost funny. Thom Hartmann has been calling for some senator to step up as Truman did during WWII to investigate war profiteering. Looks like the conservatards are slowly coming around. This awakening will be very painful, folks, but don't be too slow about it. Wake up! And wake up now! --pseudolus
========================

I'm no Harry Truman fan (and don't even me started on James Whitmore). But Larry Kudlow rightly calls out for the miniature Missourian when it comes to out-of-control and corrupt spending in Iraq.

Special K's basic point is this:

Continued...to "Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

But [inspector general for the Iraq reconstruction Stuart] Bowen says this is a problem that began at home: "[T]he Bush administration's overall handling of Iraq contracting -- from relying on no-bid contracts even when major fighting had ended, to failing to standardize contracting regulations to help prevent fraud -- was deeply flawed." He goes on to say that the U.S. has not provided the proper contracting and procurement support necessary to manage reconstruction efforts that were begun three years ago, and also cites widespread mismanagement among competing U.S. government agencies.


What does this have to with Harry Truman?

When Truman was an unknown senator from Missouri during WWII, he chaired hearings that rooted out corruption in various war-related contracts among defense suppliers. In doing so, he made a real name for himself as a corruption fighter, prompting FDR to put him on the presidential ticket in 1944....

The senator held numerous hearings in Washington, and traveled all over the country gathering facts and figures on the building of ships, warplanes and various plants. He investigated giant corporations, small businesses and unions, turning up all manner of bad planning, sloppy administration, poor workmanship, and cheating by labor and management.

And count Kudlow among conservative hawks whose enthusiasm for the Iraq War is plummeting:

I want to win this war. I do not want to cut and run. I agree with President Bush's basic mission of spreading democracy and freedom to the Middle East.

But after three democratic elections in Iraq, a wondrous advance for democracy, it still does not seem that we are winning this war. And if we are not winning it, then one has to worry about the possibility that we may lose it. And that would be a very bad thing.


..<..snip

SOURCE:
Hit and Run


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The Megapixel Myth: digital cameras

INTRODUCTION

Forget the silly debate over pixel counts among digital cameras. There is little visible difference between cameras with seemingly different ratings. For instance, a 3 MP camera pretty much looks the same as a 6 MP camera, even when blown up to 12 x 18!" I know because I've done this. Have you?

Joe Holmes' limited-edition 13 x 19" prints of his American Museum of Natural History series sell at Manhattan's Jen Bekman Gallery for $650 each. They're made on a D70.

There are plenty of shows selling shots from fuzzy Holgas for a lot more money, just that those folks don't tell me about it. Holgas sell for $14.95, brand new, here. You can see an award-winning shot made with a Holga hanging in Washington, D.C.'s Hemicycle Gallery of the Corcoran Museum of Art in their 2006 Eyes of History competition of the White House News Photographers Association here.

Resolution has little to do with image quality. Color and tone are far more important technically. Even Consumer Reports in their November 2002 issue noted some lower resolution digital cameras made better images than some higher resolution ones.

___continued...click link below >>>
CONTINUED...

PIXELS, RESOLUTION and PIXEL COUNT (MEGAPIXELS)

Pixels

Images are made up of little dots called pixels. Pixel stands for PICture ELment. Put enough of them together and you have a picture. They are arranged horizontally and vertically. Get close enough to your computer screen (or use a magnifier) and you'll see them.

Resolution (Linear Resolution)

Image Resolution

Resolution is how many pixels you have counted horizontally or vertically when used to describe a stored image. Digital cameras today have between 2,048 and 4,500 pixels horizontally. 3 MP cameras have 2,048 pixels horizontally and 14 MP cameras have 4,500 pixels. They have fewer pixels vertically since the images aren't as tall as they are wide.

That's not much of a difference, is it? That's the whole point of this article. I'll explain that a little further down.

Print Resolution

Resolution is also how many pixels you have per inch or other linear unit when you print on paper. Most prints are made at 200 - 300 pixels per inch (PPI or DPI, dots per inch). This is the image resolution and has nothing to do with the technology by which the print is made. (For instance, inkjet printers' nozzle sizes are the silly 2880 DPI or other numbers you see. These printer numbers are often used by hucksters to hoodwink and distract you when talking about resolution. These only refer to how the ink is spat out on the paper.)

Screen Resolution

Most computer screens today are about 100 DPI, dots per inch. There isn't much variation from screen to screen so we rarely discuss this. It's easy to figure out: most computer screens are about 1,024 x 768 pixels. If your screen is 10" wide then divides 1,024 by 10 and you have a 102.4 DPI screen. Bigger screens tend to have more pixels, for instance, my 22" CRT has 1,600 x 1,200 pixels and has a viewing area of 16 x 12."

Yes, laptops with bigger screens tend to have lower linear resolution. No big deal.

Pixel Count, expressed as Megapixels

Pixel Count, expressed as Megapixels, is simply multiplying the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels. It's exactly like calculating area. A 3 MP camera has 2,048 (horizontal) x 1,536 (vertical) pixels, or 3,145,728 pixels. We call this simply 3 MP.

Small differences in pixel count, between say 5 MP and 8MP, are unimportant because pixel counts are a square function. It's exactly like calculating area or square footage. It only takes a 40% increase in linear dimensions to double the pixel count! Doubling pixel count only increases the real, linear resolution by 40%, which is pretty much invisible.

THE MYTH

The megapixel myth was started by camera makers and swallowed hook, line and sinker by camera measurebators. Camera makers use the number of megapixels a camera has to hoodwink you into thinking it has something to do with camera quality. They use it because even a tiny linear resolution increase results in a huge total pixel increase, since the total pixel count varies as the total area of the image, which varies as the square of the linear resolution. In other words, an almost invisible 40% increase in the number of pixels in any one direction results in a doubling of the total number of pixels in the image. Therefore camera makers can always brag about how much better this week's camera is, with even negligible improvements.

This gimmick is used by salespeople and manufacturers to you feel as if your current camera is inadequate and needs to be replaced even if the new cameras each year are only slightly better.

One needs about a doubling of linear resolution or film size to make an obvious improvement. This is the same as a quadrupling of megapixels. A simple doubling of megapixels, even if all else remained the same, is very subtle. The factors that matter, like color and sharpening algorithms, are far more significant.

The megapixel myth is also prevalent because men always want a single number by which something's goodness can be judged.

Unfortunately, it's all a myth because the number of megapixels (MP) a camera has has very little to do with how the image looks. Even worse, plenty of lower MP cameras can make better images than poorer cameras with more MP.

THE PROFIT-DRIVEN HYPE TO MAKE YOU PAY TOO MUCH

Here's a complete fabrication by a company who is trying to spread the myth to get you to buy too much camera. There's a similar page here. That page is brilliantly done, however it's done with completely incorrect data to exaggerate the differences. At the low magnifications shown on the screen any and all of those examples should look perfect. Instead the two lower resolution examples have been severely degraded. Their page displaying results for a 5 x 7" print actually show how the 4 MP camera would look blown up to 12 by 9 feet, not 5 x 7 inches!

How do we know their 4MP example is what you'd see blown up twelve feet wide, not 5 x 7 inches? Easy: for the 4 MP example at maximum crop I see pixels blown up to little squares measuring 16 pixels per inch on my screen. (Just get out your ruler and measure for yourself.) You divide the number of pixels by the PPI (DPI) to get how many inches you get in print at that resolution. Thus printing a 2,289 x 1,712 pixel (4MP) image at 16 PPI gives (2289/16)" x (1712/16)" or 143" x 107" or, dividing inches by 12 to get feet, 12' x 9.'

I'm sure the designer of that page would feign ignorance of the technology involved if made to own up to it. Page designers don't have Ph.D.s in digital image processing, either. Most likely the designer worked on it till their manager made sure that they showed a clear difference. Their manager, if made to come clean, would probably explain that the page was put up to illustrate the differences as an educational service, not as actual science or a legitimate example. They had to make certain "adjustments" to make the differences clear, namely, to make the 4 MP and 5 MP cameras look much worse than they are.

I taught you above how to calculate the differences among different resolution cameras. The difference between the 6 MP and 4 MP cameras should be (square root (6/4)) or SQR(1.5) or 22.4%. In other words, the size of the pixels or number per inch should be less than 25% different between the 4 MP and 6 MP cameras. They've made the lower resolution cameras look much, much worse by comparison on that page.

Honest Results for Comparison

3 MP uncropped
Cropped as per red rectangle

Here's the same percentage crop as that other store-sponsored website shows. I gave them an advantage by showing my images above at twice the size as they did (requiring four times the number of pixels) and then starting with only a 3 MP camera, not the 4 MP as shown in their worst example.

Looks fine, eh? I actually had to throw many pixels away. These sizes are easy to do with a 3 MP camera. Even if they are adding in some unstated magnification to try to address other issues in rendering prints vs. screen images the differences between 4 MP and 6 MP are nowhere near as exaggerated as that store site shows. They show at least a 4x difference in the size of the pixels between 4 MP and 6 MP. As you know the size difference between 4 MP and 6 MP is only 50% in pixel count, and since pixels are square that means less than 25% in pixel size or pitch! Since that part of that retailer's site isn't an ad for any particular product I doubt and truth in advertising rules apply. Caveat emptor!

PRINT SIZES

If an image is clear you pretty much can print any image from any modern camera at any size. Sure, if you print mural size you won't have the sharpness you'd get from 4 x 5" film, but you'll have an image that looks fine when viewed from the reasonable distance at which normal people will view that image.

Ideally you'd like to print at 300 DPI to look sharp even when viewed too close. You can figure this by:

Long print dimension in inches = 4 x (square root of megapixels)

For example, for a four megapixel camera the square root of four is two. Two times four is eight. Thus the biggest print you can make without losing sharpness compared to film at normal viewing distances is is 6 x 8." From a sixteen MP camera likewise you could go 12 x 16." Of course you can print bigger, just you won't have the sharpness of film. Also few people are able to get all the sharpness of which film is capable, making this harder to compare.

Of course most people want to print bigger than that, and that's fine.

The entire resolution issue is one of scale and viewing distance. Sure, more resolution is better at bigger sizes, but how sharp your image is has little to do with how good it is. Far more important technically is whether or not the colors are correct and whether or not any sharpening was done tastefully. Many digital cameras add nasty looking sharpening that puts very artificial halos around sharp lines, making the image look obviously digital to those of us who recognize these things. Sloppy sharpening is done to impress the innocent by overemphasizing the lines around things if real sharpness and resolution is lacking.

Of course you can print much bigger, since sharpness isn't as important in color as most people worry. You can get great results from a 6MP camera at 20 x 30" if you want, since normal people view big images from further away. This is all art and in the eye of the beholder; I prefer huge prints made from my 4 x 5" film camera, and for portraits I prefer the smoothing of digital cameras.

Don't worry too much about this, since sharpness is not as important in color as it is in B/W. I make 12 x 18" color prints all the time from 3 to 6 MP cameras and they look great, since I only print images that are good to begin with.

TO REPLACE FILM

Digital does not replace film. Just look here for why a magazine like Arizona Highways simply does not accept images from digital cameras for publication since the quality is not good enough, even from 11 megapixel cameras, to print at 12 x 18."

If you do fret the pixel counts, I find that it takes about 25 megapixels to simulate 35mm film, which is still far more than any practical digital camera. At the 6 megapixel level digital gives about the same sharpness as a duplicate slide, which is plenty for most things. Honestly, I have actually had digital files written back out onto film to see this. See also my film vs. digital page here.

Of course I use much bigger film than 35mm for all the pretty pictures you see at my website, so digital would need about 100 megapixels to simulate medium format film, or 500 megapixels to simulate 4x5" film. This is all invisible at Internet resolutions, but obvious in gallery size prints.

For images seen at arm's length you need to have about 300 real pixels for every inch of your print's dimensions. If you are looking too closely, as with a contact print, then you'll love to have 600 real pixels or more for every inch of your print. Stand further away as you would from a huge print and even 100 pixels per inch (DPI) can look great. By real pixels I mean real optical pixels, not phony interpolated ones. Multiply the inch dimensions by these DPI figures to get the total resolution (horizontal and vertical, typically thousands in each dimension) you need for a decent image, and multiply these together to get a total number of pixels (usually in the millions, or megapixels.)

For instance, for an excellent 8x10 you need [8" x 300 DPI] x [10 x 300DPI] or 2,400 x 3,000 pixels, or 7,200,000 pixels, or 7.2 megapixels. This is what the formula at the top calculates the easy way.


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USATODAY.com - Mad cow watch goes blind

Updated 8/3/2006 8:44 PM ET E-mail | Save | Print |
Creekstone Farms, a Kansas beef producer, wants to reassure customers that its cattle are safe to eat by testing them all for mad cow disease. Sounds like a smart business move, but there's one problem: The federal government won't let the company do it.

OPPOSING VIEW: Our safeguards are working [see post below. --pseudolus]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture — invoking an obscure 1913 law intended to thwart con artists from peddling bogus hog cholera serum to pig farmers — is blocking companies from selling the testing kits to Creekstone.

Continued...to "Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

USDA is doing the bidding of large cattle barons afraid that Creekstone's marketing will force them to do the same tests to stay competitive. It's true that the incidence of mad cow disease is quite low. But there's little logic in stopping a company from exceeding regulations to meet the demands of its customers, or protecting its rivals from legitimate competition.

Not only is USDA blocking Creekstone, the department said last month that it's reducing its mad cow testing program by 90%. The industry and its sympathetic regulators seem to believe that the problem isn't mad cow disease. It's tests that find mad cow.

The department tests only 1% of the roughly 100,000 cattle slaughtered daily. The new plan will test only 110 cows a day.

By cutting back on testing, USDA will save about $35 million a year. That's a pittance compared with the devastation the cattle industry could face if just one human case of mad cow disease is linked to domestic beef.

The brain-wasting disease — known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE — is extremely rare but extremely deadly. Since 1986, it has killed more than 150 people worldwide, mostly in Britain, who ate infected meat.

Scientists don't know the exact cause of BSE but think it's spread when cows are fed ground-up parts of cattle and other cud-chewing animals. The government has tightened cattle-feed rules, but loopholes still permit cattle blood as a milk substitute and chicken waste as a protein supplement.

Canada has found four cows with BSE this year, and at least one was born after similar cattle feed rules were imposed that should have prevented the animal from being infected. Acting out of an abundance of caution, U.S. plans to increase Canadian beef and cattle imports have been put on hold until the new cases are investigated. That makes sense, but it's hard to justify cutbacks on U.S. testing at the same time we demand other nations provide greater assurances.

Sixty-five nations have full or partial restrictions on importing U.S. beef products because of fears that the testing isn't rigorous enough. As a result, U.S. beef product exports declined from $3.8 billion in 2003, before the first mad cow was detected in the USA, to $1.4 billion last year. Foreign buyers are demanding that USDA do more.

"In a nation dedicated to free market competition," says John Stewart, CEO of Creekstone, which is suing USDA, "a company that wants to do more than is required to ensure the quality of its product and to satisfy customer demand should be allowed to do so."

When regulators disagree with reasoning like that, you know the game is rigged.
Posted 8/3/2006 8:41 PM ET
Updated 8/3/2006 8:44 PM ET
SOURCE:
USATODAY.com - Mad cow watch goes blind


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Mad-Cow Disease: a summary of what is known about it now.

By Nate Leskovic (nleskovic@hotmail.com)

Though the first American case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) -- better known as Mad Cow Disease -- was discovered in December 2003, sensationalism and general concern about the disease have been basically non-existent since. Is this comfort justified? What role has the government and media played in assuaging fears? Is there cause to worry about a future epidemic of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD), the human form of BSE? Though in no way do I wish to incite panic, I believe that Mad Cow will make the headlines again.

Continued...to "Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

BSE is caused by a relatively new biological discovery, the prion. In the Ultimate Fighting Championship of semi-living organisms, prions have the potential to kick the ass of the virus. In 1997, Stanley Prusiner, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of prions, “tiny protein molecules that seem to cause a variety of slow acting and inevitably fatal diseases in animals and humans.” The name is an acronym for proteinaceous infectious particles. The effect of the disease, in cows as well as humans, is the disintegration of brain tissue into a spongy mass.

The prion is not a bacteria or a virus, and it has no DNA or RNA. In an organism, it resides in the brain, spinal, and nerve tissue. The prion has no means of replicating itself, but when it comes into contact with proteins in the brain it changes them, causing the disease. Because the prion is not an organism, it cannot be destroyed by normal disinfection, radiation, UV rays, or incineration. It is for this reason that the prion is so frightening.

Prions are transmitted in a multitude of ways, but currently the most common way is through food. They can move from o­ne organism to another by ingestion. This frequently happens because of rendering, the process in which dead animals, as well as the leftover portions of slaughtered animals, are ground into a protein mix to feed other animals. Cows that eat infected sheep (Mad Cow is called Scrappies [scrapie --pseudolus] in sheep) can develop BSE. Cows are sometimes fed to other cows, and transmit BSE this way. Passing prions between farm animals can eventually result in the infection of humans -- when they eat infected cows. From a May 2004 Alternet piece:

“If you inject cows with rBGH [recombinant bovine growth hormone, the genetically engineered drug designed to increase a cow’s milk production], you will have to feed them fat and protein supplements,’ because rBGH takes a heavy toll as it hikes milk production. Likely to be used, he said, would be ‘the cheapest form’ of fat and protein: slaughterhouse waste. And this waste, the researcher said, would inevitably include parts of animals infected with mad cow disease -- and the disease would be passed o­n. The use of slaughterhouse waste was how mad cow disease had spread in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe in the 1980s.”

In response to the 2003 BSE case in Washington State, the USDA implemented a ban o­n “downer” cows, or those who are unable to walk when slaughtered. It was originally thought that the cow was a downer, and that these unfortunate types were most likely to have the disease. However, it was later determined that the cow was able to walk to its execution. Essentially, this ban o­nly eliminates a portion of potentially infected cows from the food supply.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that downers are more likely to have BSE. A cow may have the disease and not show any symptoms, for it is known that there is a gestation period. In cows this is usually 2-8 years, though sometimes up to 10, and in humans it is usually around 5-10, though sometimes more. The earliest age a laboratory has detected BSE in a cow is around 20 months, hence the gestation period. The prions that cause the disease cannot be detected at all.

Because the symptoms are so similar, some Alzheimer’s patients actually have nvCJD and have been misdiagnosed. Due to this and the gestation period, there could be hundreds or thousands of Americans with nvCJD right now. Though this may be unlikely, chances raise the longer rendering processes continue. If nothing else, there are surely many farm animals currently infected. From PETA’s website:

“Because the infected cow was raised for dairy production, she had lived long enough to show symptoms of the disease. Most cows are killed before they turn 2 years old, chickens at 6 to 7 weeks, and pigs and turkeys before they’re 6 months old, long before they could become symptomatic; no o­ne would know whether they were infected with spongy brain disease…”

It is still legal to feed sheep and cows to pigs and chickens; feeding pigs and chickens to o­ne another and to cows is okay too. These practices have been banned in Europe. Cow and sheep blood is still fed to cows and sheep, as well as chickens, turkeys, and other farm animals. Baby cows are often fed “milk replacer,” (don’t want to waste that precious cow milk o­n calves) which is actually made from cattle blood. It is illegal for humans to donate blood in the U.S. if they have spent three or more months in the U.K. due to the mad cow outbreak, however cows are still allowed to eat other cows’ blood.

Feeding sheep and cows to other cows was not prohibited in the U.S. and Canada until 1997, and the U.S. government said as recently as 2001 there was widespread violation of this regulation. In 2002, the U.S. General Accounting Office released a report o­n Mad Cow Disease:

“BSE may be silently incubating somewhere in the United States. If that is the case, then FDA’s failure to enforce the feed ban may already have placed U.S. herds and, in turn, the human food supply at risk. FDA has no clear enforcement strategy for dealing with firms that do not obey the feed ban.... Moreover, FDA has been using inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data to track and oversee feed ban compliance.”

Because of the relatively new discovery of prions, much remains unknown. Exactly which animals are susceptible, besides sheep, cows, and humans, is not known. There have been cases of Mad Mink Disease, and spongy brains have been found in cats, dogs, deer, and elk. Hunters use the term Chronic Wasting Disease in diagnosing animals they kill that fit this description as well. It is not known whether any other animals can transmit prions to humans other than cows. There has, however, been some inconclusive evidence that hunters have contracted nvCJD from eating infected deer. Again, while perhaps not widespread, surely the issue deserves attention.

The USDA and meat industry state that prions are not found in the muscle (the part people eat) of cows. They conclude that since brain and spinal cords are usually not eaten, humans face little risk. In a June 2004 MSNBC article:

“When supermarkets found meat from the lone infected Holstein had made it into shoppers’ carts, officials quickly pointed to evidence that animal muscle doesn’t contain the deformed prions believed to cause mad cow’s equivalent illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, in humans.”

Research has shown this is not always the case. Even the USDA’s web site states: “Epidemiological and case studies have not revealed a common risk factor among the cases of vCJD. According to the SEAC [the U.K.’s Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee], all victims were reported to have eaten beef or beef products in the last 10 years, but none had knowingly eaten brain material.”

Nerve tissue, in which prions are often found, is located throughout muscle. From PETA: “Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, describes the levels of prions in muscle as ‘quite high.’ Follow-up studies in Germany, published May 2003, confirm Prusiner’s findings, and in 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine published research indicating that deadly prions were found in eight of the 32 muscle samples of human CJD victims. The authors declare that the prions were ‘prevalent in skeletal muscle tissue.’”

Even if prions were o­nly located in brain and spinal tissue, this would still not eliminate transmission. During the process of slicing cows into various “cuts,” it is not uncommon for mistakes to be made, resulting in the packaging of brain and spinal tissue. Think, Sinclair’s The Jungle. Furthermore, it is known that during the “stunning” of cows before slaughter, often by driving a metal bolt through the skull, pieces of brain can enter the bloodstream and make their way into the rest of the body. In a December 2003 Green Party statement:

“The first myth: U.S. beef is safe because brain and spinal cord tissue (which are said to harbor mad cow) are removed before processing. The claim is odd to anyone who has ever seen a T-bone steak, which includes a section of the spinal cord that can easily contaminate meat during butchering. U.S. Department of Agriculture reports reveal that as much as 35% of beef, hot dogs and sausage samples taken from advanced meat and bone separation machinery are contaminated with ‘unacceptable nervous tissues’ that may harbor the contaminants that cause Mad Cow Disease.”

The U.S. government defends its testing for BSE. The USDA tested around 150,000 cows in 2004. This is out of some 45 million slaughtered, or .3 percent. There are around 100 million total cattle, which makes those that are tested o­nly .15 percent. There were no tests o­n the more than 10 billion other farm animals. In a March 2004 Alternet piece: “...experts concluded that the reason the USDA has found o­nly o­ne case of Mad Cow disease is that it has not looked very hard…The panel chairman said that USDA might find “a case a month” of Mad Cow if it was doing enough testing.”

Also troubling, currently the USDA does not allow private testing of cattle. A December 2004 article o­n MSNBC states, “The more time passes without a new case, the more consumer confidence in the meat supply grows.”

But a slowly developing problem may be slipping by with the relatively small number of tests. Over 40 countries currently ban imports of U.S. cows. If they have reason to fear American farming, does that not give Americans reason as well?

Perhaps this is the true reason for the lack of apprehension regarding American cows. The cattle industry is worth more than $30 billion. According to a March 2005 A.P. article, meatpackers have lost more than $1.7 billion since the ban o­n Canadian cattle began. Recently, the administration decided to allow the resumption of imports, blocked by a temporary court injunction and voted down by the Senate, showing a potential bias in favor of business interest over safety. The same article illustrates ways the press has contributed to easing concern:

“‘They’ve got mad cow disease,’ said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. ‘Now the question is, should we run the risk of opening our border to livestock imports from Canada, when the evidence demonstrates clearly they’re not enforcing their regulations to reduce the risk to them and to us?’”

When the first case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in December 2003, President Bush and his administration were quick to declare that American cows were safe. Bush proudly ate cow for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, the herd of 80 that the infected animal came from -- which may also have been exposed -- was never completely accounted for. O­nly o­ne-third of them were ever found. The rest, obviously, entered the food supply.
SOURCE:
the Student Underground - Mad-Cow Disease, by Nate Leskovic (nleskovic@hotmail.com)


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Our safeguards are working - A Rebuttal

By W. Ron DeHaven
There's an unfortunate misperception about the value and purpose of testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy that a review of the science it's based on easily clears up. First and foremost, sampling cattle for BSE does not ensure food safety. In fact, it's not a food-safety test at all.

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CONTINUED:

What protects animal and human health are our series of interlocking safeguards, the most important of which are the removal of specified risk materials from cattle over 30 months of age, and the 1997 Food and Drug Administration ban on the feeding of mammalian protein to other ruminants.

Testing cannot detect BSE until shortly before a cow develops symptoms. And cattle in this country are generally slaughtered for food between 18 and 24 months of age, which is long before the disease is detectable. Hence, testing young slaughter-age animals would mislead the public by providing an implied food-safety assurance for which there would be no scientific basis.

We have just announced USDA's intention to transition from our enhanced BSE surveillance program to an ongoing level of surveillance. Our efforts have proved what all the evidence has been telling us — that BSE in the USA is extremely rare.

Only two positive BSE cases were detected out of more than 764,000 samples collected as part of our enhanced surveillance program. Moreover, seven years of surveillance data, which were recently released, found that the prevalence of BSE in the USA is less than one case per 1 million adult cattle, with the most likely range of infected animals being four to seven.

All this confirms what we already knew — there is no significant BSE problem in the USA, and there never was.

The new, ongoing surveillance will involve sampling approximately 40,000 animals from the targeted populations each year. At this rate, we'll maintain our ability to detect BSE and far exceed international surveillance guidelines by more than 10 times.

USDA is confident that ongoing surveillance for BSE will continue to demonstrate the health of our cattle to consumers and the international community, and affirm that our interlocking safeguards are working. With this knowledge, Americans and our trading partners can continue to eat U.S. beef with confidence. I certainly do.

W. Ron DeHaven is administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

SOURCE:
USATODAY.com - Our safeguards are working
====================


I don't know, but it seems like the old vaudeville joke about the man scattering paper bits out the train window claiming he's keeping tigers away. When a fellow passenger tells him there are no tigers about, he exclaims, "See, it's working!" --pseudolus


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What's The Motivation?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 4, 2006; 12:52 PM

President Bush often complains about lack of transparency in places like North Korea or, more recently, Cuba -- and contrasts that with the United States.

Here he is in Vienna in June: "We're a transparent democracy. People know exactly what's on our mind. We debate things in the open. We've got a legislative process that's active."

But the reality is that, particularly when it comes to Bush's foreign policy, the minimal press access to the intensely secret inner workings of the White House and the almost complete lack of effective Congressional oversight have left Bush's decision-making process largely a mystery.

Case in point: What is really motivating our policy in the Middle East? And who's really making the decisions? We don't know.

These are particularly important questions as the Bush White House's nearly absolute deference to Israel in the current Lebanese conflict strains other alliances and arguably makes the situation in the Middle East deadlier and more intractable every day.

So we look for clues.

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CONTINUED...

Some Clues

On Wednesday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the New York Times about how Bush's strong predisposition to support Israel contrasts with his father's.

"Unlike the first President Bush, who viewed himself as a neutral arbiter in the delicate politics of the Middle East, the current president sees his role through the prism of the fight against terrorism. This President Bush, unlike his father, also has deep roots in the evangelical Christian community, a staunchly pro-Israeli component of his conservative Republican base."

Today, Ron Hutcheson of McClatchy Newspapers writes: "If there's a starting point for George W. Bush's attachment to Israel, it's the day in late 1998 when he stood on the hilltop where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and, eyes brimming with tears, read aloud from his favorite hymn, 'Amazing Grace.'

" 'He was very emotional. It was a tear-filled experience,' said Matthew Brooks, a prominent Jewish Republican who escorted Bush, then governor of Texas, and three other GOP governors on the Middle East visit. 'He brought Israel back home with him in his heart. I think he came away profoundly moved.'

"Eight years later, Bush is living up to his reputation as the most pro-Israel president ever. As Israel's military action in Lebanon heads into its fourth week, the president is standing firm against growing international pressure for an immediate cease-fire."

Yesterday, I noted former Newsday and Knight Ridder White House correspondent Saul Friedman 's essay on NiemanWatchdog.org: "I believe this to be the first time in modern American history that a president's religion, in this case his Christian fundamentalism, has become a decisive factor in his foreign and domestic policies. It's a factor that has been under-reported, to say the least, and that begs for press attention."

Former Clinton official Sidney Blumenthal sees another, related form of evangelism at work: The neoconservative variety. He writes in Salon: "By secretly providing NSA intelligence to Israel and undermining the hapless Condi Rice, hardliners in the Bush administration are trying to widen the Middle East conflict to Iran and Syria, not stop it. . . .

"The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war."
The End Times?

And here's another data point: Joel C. Rosenberg, who writes Christian apocalyptic fiction, told me in an interview this week that he was invited to a White House Bible study group last year to talk about current events and biblical prophecy.

Rosenberg said that on February 10, 2005, he came to speak to a "couple dozen" White House aides in the Old Executive Office Building -- and has stayed in touch with several of them since.

Rosenberg wouldn't say exactly what was discussed. "The meeting itself was off the record, as you could imagine," he said. He declined to name the staffer he said invited him or describe the attendees in any way other than to say that the president was not among them. "I can't imagine they'd want to talk about it," he said.

"I can't tell you that the people that I spoke with agree with me, or believe that prophecy can really help you understand what will happen next in the Middle East, but I'm not surprised that they're intrigued."

The White House press office wasn't able to confirm the visit for me, but there have been previous reports about White House Bible study groups inviting Christian authors to come speak.

Rosenberg -- like Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the authors of the phenomenally popular "Left Behind" series -- writes fiction inspired by biblical prophecy about the apocalypse. The consistent theme is that certain current events presage the end times, the Rapture, and the return of Jesus Christ. Rosenberg's particular pitch to journalists is that his books come true.

Here he is in a recent interview with Christian talk-show host Pat Robertson , talking about what he thinks is going to happen next: "Now I have to say, Pat, I believe that Ezekiel 38 and 39 -- the prophecies that we're talking about -- I think this is about the end of radical Islam as we know it. God says He's going to supernaturally judge Iran, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, these other countries. We're talking about fire from heaven, a massive earthquake. It's going to be devastating and tragic. But I believe that afterwards there's going to be a great spiritual awakening. We're seeing more Muslims coming to Christ right now than at any other time in history. But I think that's just the beginning. We've got dark days ahead of us. But I believe there's a light at the end of that tunnel."

Rosenberg says he got a call last year from a White House staffer. "He said 'A lot of people over here are reading your novels, and they're intrigued that these things keep on happening. . . . Your novels keep foreshadowing actual coming events. . . . And so we're curious, how are you doing it? What's the secret? Why don't you come over and walk us through the story behind these novels?' So I did."

Judy Keen first wrote back in October 2002, in USA Today, that "some White House staffers have been meeting weekly at hour-long prayer and Bible study sessions."

Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in the New York Times last year that "intelligent design was the subject of a weekly Bible study class several years ago when Charles W. Colson, the founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, spoke to the group."

Ann Banks wrote about apocalyptic fiction in The Washington Post's Book World section in 2004: "The White House won't disclose whether the president has read the 'Left Behind' books. . . . Whatever his personal theology, however, many of the policies of the Bush administration 'strike prophecy believers as perfectly in harmony with God's prophetic plan,' according to Paul S. Boyer, a scholar at the University of Wisconsin, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education."

Somebody finally asked Bush for his views on the subject in March, during a visit to the City Club of Cleveland :

"My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?"

Bush stammered and laughed nervously as he responded: "The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. . . . The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow."

As Sabrina Eaton wrote at the time for Newhouse News Service: "Bush critics, including [author Kevin] Phillips, contend the president feigned confusion. Had the president embraced the controversial views of his religious backers, the critics say, he would have alienated moderates."
Domino Theory Revisited

And then, of course, there is the Cheney view of the apocalypse.

I wrote in my June 23 column, 'It's Not Just About Iraq' , about how Vice President Cheney, in an unusually revealing glimpse of his worldview, described a sort of new domino theory whereby withdrawal from Iraq would have cataclysmic effects across the globe and put the homeland at risk.

The New York Times editorial board noticed more of the same coming from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yesterday: "You could practically hear the dominoes falling as he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that it was dangerous for Americans to even talk about how to end the war in Iraq."
Not Talking

Imad Moustapha , the Syrian ambassador to the United States, writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Although the media have reported that no contacts have been made between the two countries over the last three weeks, administration officials have sent vague signals that this might be happening through back channels.

"But no communication whatsoever has taken place. U.S. policy remains to ignore the Syrian government. And it remains fundamentally wrong. . . .

"Currently, the White House doesn't talk to the democratically elected government of Palestine. It does not talk to Hezbollah, which has democratically elected members in the Lebanese parliament and is a member of the Lebanese coalition government. It does not talk to Iran, and it certainly does not talk to Syria.

"Gone are the days when U.S. special envoys to the Middle East would spend hours, if not days, with Syrian officials brainstorming, discussing, negotiating and looking for creative solutions leading to a compromise or settlement. Instead, this administration follows the Bolton Doctrine: There is no need to talk to Syria, because Syria knows what it needs to do. End of the matter."
Quibbling Over Definitions

Here's what Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular. And that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Not surprisingly, this came up at yesterday's White House gaggle with spokesman Tony Snow. Immediately after quibbling with Abizaid's characterization, Snow came out against quibbling. But in neither case did he actually address the central question.

"Q Does the President agree with General Abizaid's assessment today, that Iraq is in danger of civil war because of the recent sectarian violence?

"MR. SNOW: I think what he said -- I think he specifically avoided 'civil war.' I think he said he was worried about sectarian violence, and also reiterated something we've talked about on a number of occasions, which is the importance of security [in] Baghdad -- which is why, pursuant to General Casey's recommendations, you're going to see a little more of a troop presence in Baghdad, to try to suppress some of those. Obviously, sectarian violence is a concern.

"Q I think he did say that he thought civil war was a possibility.

" MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, I don't think the President is going to quibble with his generals on their characterizations."

Incidentally, there are objective characteristics that all modern civil wars share. Harvard political science professor Monica Toft lists six commonly accepted criteria. And guess what? Iraq meets all of them.

Thomas L. Friedman writes in his New York Times opinion column today (subscription required): "It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war. . . .

"[T]he administration now has to admit what anyone -- including myself -- who believed in the importance of getting Iraq right has to admit: Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening, and we can't throw more good lives after good lives."
NSA and DOJ

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "A White House-endorsed plan to formally legalize the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program ran into more political problems yesterday in the Senate, as Democrats successfully maneuvered to block a committee vote on the proposal.

"In addition, three of the committee's leading Democrats announced that they would block the confirmation of a senior Justice Department official in protest of a recent move by President Bush. The president effectively stopped a probe into the NSA program by denying security clearances to Justice Department investigators. . . .

"[Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)] said that he believes much of the Democratic opposition to his proposal stems in part from Bush's faltering popularity. 'There's a real opposition to the president today which you see everywhere, and it manifests itself here. . . . There's an attitude that if the president's in favor of it, there must be something wrong with it.' "

What--Bush blocked a probe of the NSA program? And you don't recall seeing that on the front pages anywhere? See my July 19 column, Cover-Up Exposed?
The Run-Up to War

Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times: "The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee lashed out at the White House on Thursday, criticizing attempts by the Bush administration to keep secret parts of a report on the role Iraqi exiles played in building the case for war against Iraq.

"The chairman, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said his committee had completed the first two parts of its investigation of prewar intelligence. But he chastised the White House for efforts to classify most of the part that examines intelligence provided to the Bush administration by the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group."

Mazzetti calls this "a sign that more than three years into the conflict, emotions remain raw over the role that the Iraqi group and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi -- who was close to Pentagon officials and Vice President Dick Cheney -- played in the administration's decision to wage war against Saddam Hussein."

Matt Stearns writes for McClatchy Newspapers that even with two parts of the report complete: "That leaves unfinished three reports in the so-called Phase II investigation, including the potentially explosive one that compares the pre-war public statements of government officials to the intelligence they had at the time. Opponents of the war have said the administration routinely exaggerated the menace presented by Iraq."
Signing Statement Watch

George Pyle , an editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, complains in the Tribune's editorial blog that I did not include his paper's Sunday editorial in my Wednesday column about editorials from all over the country expressing outrage about Bush's signing statements.

The Tribune wrote: "Congress and the courts must rein in this presidential power grab. To do otherwise would be to court tyranny."

And yes, in 2004, the Tribune endorsed Bush.
Cuba Watch

Bush released this statement on Cuba yesterday: "I urge the Cuban people to work for democratic change on the island. We will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy, and we will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba."

Anthony Boadle writes for Reuters: "Cuba bristled at U.S. President George W. Bush's call for democracy for the Communist island amid growing uncertainty after ailing President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to brother Raul."

And Patrick Lescot writes for AFP: "Cuba is on heightened alert, wary of a possible invasion by US-based Cuban exiles."
Vacation Watch

Bush settled down last night at his Crawford home for a 10-day summer vacation.

Michael Fletcher writes in the Washington Post about last year's disastrous vacation: "The image of Bush on an extended stay away from the White House while Katrina flattened much of the Gulf Coast and left New Orleans engulfed by floodwater proved to be a defining moment of his presidency."

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "The White House was taking pains to make sure it didn't appear that the president was tuned out from the world's problems, even temporarily. Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state were to arrive at the ranch Saturday to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon."
Froomkin on the Radio

I'll be on Washington Post Radio today, shortly after 2 p.m. ET.
When Bubbles Collide

Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon slams Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban for turning down Bush's dinner invitation Sunday night.

"[I]t's silly to the point of being preposterous, and probably just another way for the most controlling of football coaches to control something and somebody else. . . .

"So, it's as simple as this: Saban would rather lock himself in a cave and watch film, tinker with schemes, pore over depth charts and sit around with his assistants plotting the exciting intricacies of the next day's practices than have dinner with the president for two hours."
Briefing Room Follies

Where I saw insults at Bush's last visit to the briefing room before a nine-month renovation on Wednesday, Time's Mike Allen saw good humor.

Joe Strupp writes for Editor and Publisher: "Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents Association and a senior C-SPAN producer, said at least three organizations have expressed an interest in the press briefing room items, which are being removed today and put in storage by the U.S. General Services Administration."

David S. Hirschman writes in Editor and Publisher with some expert advice for Karl Rove, on the assumption that he is "scheming with GOP architects and interior designers about ways to use the new room's design to further neuter the Washington reporters. . . .

" 'If you want to make people uncomfortable, you should have sharp edges of things coming at them, like pointed walls or beams overhead,' says Michele Sayres, who runs a design and feng shui consulting firm in New York. . . .

"Sayres also said that color has an effect, and that the administration might consider changing the blue curtain in the backdrop to a more 'powerful and energetic' red, or even to an American flag. She also suggested the White House could make the podium larger and higher, so that the person fielding questions seems to be towering above the reporters in the gallery. 'That says, 'I'm important and you're nothing.' "

© 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
SOURCE:
White House Briefing -- News on President George W Bush and the Bush Administration


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Friday, August 04, 2006

The End Of the Right?

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, August 4, 2006; A17

Is conservatism finished?

What might have seemed an absurd question less than two years ago is now one of the most important issues in American politics. The question is being asked -- mostly quietly but occasionally publicly -- by conservatives themselves as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, and as their champions in the Republican Party use any means necessary to survive this fall's elections.

Conservatism is an honorable disposition that, in its modern form, is inspired by the philosophy developed by Edmund Burke in the 18th century. But as a contemporary American movement, conservatism is rooted intellectually in the 1950s and the circles around William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review magazine. It rose politically with Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964.

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CONTINUED:

Conservatism was always a delicate balancing act between small-government economic libertarians and social traditionalists who revered family, faith and old values. The two wings were often held together by a common enemy, modern liberalism certainly, but even more so by communism until the early 1990s, and now by what some conservatives call "Islamofascism."

President Bush, his defenders say, has pioneered a new philosophical approach, sometimes known as "big-government conservatism." The most articulate defender of this position, the journalist Fred Barnes, argues that Bush's view is "Hamiltonian" as in Alexander, Thomas Jefferson's rival in the early republic. Bush's strategy, Barnes says, "is to use government as a means to achieve conservative ends."

Kudos to Barnes for trying bravely to make sense of what to so many others -- including some in conservative ranks -- seems an incoherent enterprise. But I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism, Hamiltonian or not, reached the point of collapse.

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred last night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

The episode was significant because it meant Republicans were acknowledging that they would not hold congressional power without the help of moderates. That is because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.

Yet their way of admitting this was to put on display the central goal of the currently dominant forces of politics: to give away as much as possible to the truly wealthy. You wonder what those blue-collar conservatives once known as Reagan Democrats made of this spectacle.

Last night's shenanigans were merely a symptom. Consider other profound fissures within the right. There is an increasingly bitter debate over whether it made any sense to wage war in Iraq in the hopes of transforming that country into a democracy. Conservatives with excellent philosophical credentials, including my colleague George F. Will, and Bill Buckley himself, see the enterprise as profoundly unconservative.

On immigration, the big-business right and culturally optimistic conservatives square off against cultural pessimists and conservatives who see porous borders as a major security threat. On stem cell research, libertarians battle conservatives who have serious moral and religious doubts about the practice -- and even some staunch opponents of abortion break with the right-to-life movement on the issue.

On spending . . . well, on spending, incoherence and big deficits are the order of the day. Writing in National Review in May, conservatives Kate O'Beirne and Rich Lowry had one word to describe the Republican Congress's approach to the matter: "Incontinence."

In that important essay, O'Beirne and Lowry argued that the relevant question for conservatives may not be "Can this Congress be saved?" but "Is it worth saving?"

Political movements lose power when they lose their self-confidence and sense of mission. Liberalism went into a long decline after 1968 when liberals clawed at each other more than they battled conservatives -- and when they began to wonder whether their project was worth salvaging.

Between now and November, conservative leaders will dutifully try to rally the troops to stave off a Democratic victory. But their hearts won't be in the fight. The decline of conservatism leaves a vacuum in American politics. An unhappy electorate is waiting to see who will fill it.

postchat@aol.com


SOURCE:
The End Of the Right?


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The Apologist's Toolbox: Straw Man, Fallacy, and Ignorance

August 03, 2006
The Heathlander

I have been writing about and discussing the current crisis in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza since it erupted on June 24th. My position has remained the same throughout, as a quick glance through the archives will verify. The responses I have received and the arguments I have seen used to justify Israel’s actions have remained pretty much the same, too. They are usually a mixture of straw man, fallacy, and ignorance.

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CONTINUED:

1. Israel has a right to self-defence: A favourite amongst Olmert, Bush and Blair. This is a straw man argument: no one is denying Israel’s right to self defence. Firstly, the assaults on Lebanon and Gaza are not in self defence - if anything, they are making Israelis less secure. Secondly, the ‘right to self-defence’ doesn’t give Israel a blank cheque to do whatever it wants. The nature of its self defence is constrained by, among other things, international law. Whenever you hear someone use this as an argument to justify the current Israeli actions, you know they are either trying to deceive you or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

2. Israel has shown great restraint. It could have carpet-bombed Lebanon, but it restrained itself: This is just plain false. Yeah sure, Israel could have nuked Lebanon as well. Does that mean anything short of a nuclear weapon is “restraint?” The fact is that in response to the kidnapping of a couple of soldiers, Israel has launched a full-scale war on Lebanon, repeatedly violated international law, killed hundreds of innocent civilians, caused billions of dollars in damage to the Lebanese economy and effectively set Lebanon back 20 years. That is not restraint, that’s a military machine gone wild.

3. Israel is acting in self-defence! What other country on Earth would be expected to tolerate rocket attacks on its cities?: This is another favourite among Israelis and Israeli politicians. This argument displays, among other things, acute historical amnesia, so it’s worth recapping how this war started. Hizbullah operatives kidnapped two IDF soldiers. In retaliation, Israel launched its air strike campaign against southern Lebanon. It was only after 40 Lebanese civilians had already been killed that we saw the first Hizbullah rocket fired on Israel. Therefore, the war is most definitely not a retaliation for Hizbullah rockets. Unless you consider murdering 40 civilians an acceptable response for the kidnap of two soldiers, Israel is the aggressor in this conflict. Secondly, again, this is a straw man argument. Nobody said Israel has to tolerate rocket attacks on its cities. The minimum people demand is that Israel respect international law and basic morality.

4. We can’t negotiate with people [Hamas, Hizbullah] that want to see us wiped off the face of the Earth!: That’s just ridiculous. Israel is not fighting for its existence any more, not by a long shot. Of course Hamas and Hizbullah are going to continue advocating the destruction of Israel (although less so in Hamas’ case - they simply refuse to change their Charter); after all, they formed in order to provide real, tough resistance to Israeli oppression. They aren’t going to change their semantics now in return for nothing. This excuse now holds even less water than usual with Hamas, after they signed the Prisoner’s Document which all but recognises the state of Israel. The truth is that everyone knows there will be a two-state settlement: all this fighting is over what the terms will be.

5. Israel is fighting for a UN Resolution! It withdrew from Lebanon to the UN demarcated line, and all it wants now is for the Lebanese government to fulfill its obligations under 1559!: Firstly, the sudden Israeli love for UN Resolutions is laughable. How about they respect the numerous resolutions and evacuate the West Bank, East Jerusalem and free Gaza? In any event, it is true that under 1559 Hizbullah should be disarmed. However, thanks to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, Hizbullah have been too strong both militarily and politically for the Lebanese Army to be able to achieve that. It is not true that this is what Israel is fighting for: no one thinks the IDF has a hope of disarming Hizbullah. They didn’t manage it in 18 years of occupation, why now? No, Israel’s war has been on the Lebanese people, showing them what happens if you support a terrorist group, hoping to turn them against Hizbullah. Even Olmert occasionally lets this slip.

6. You accuse us of war crimes? Look at Hizbullah! They fire rockets at our innocent civilians every day!: This is often a response by an apologist when someone points to flagrant Israeli violations of international law, deliberate targeting of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, ethnic cleansing, state terrorism, etc. It is an obvious logical fallacy — everyone knows Hizbullah are terrorists; that doesn’t absolve Israeli crimes one bit. In any event, why would you compare Israel’s actions to Hizbullah’s? Are you saying it is acceptable for a respected, democratic member of the international community to behave no better than a fundamentalist terror group?

7. Hizbullah deliberately targets civilians. Israel goes out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. That is the difference.: (see, for example, this statement from the Israeli Chief of Staff) That is just plain false. When Israel targeted the power station, was that in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties? What about when Israel refused to allow any humanitarian aid to reach suffering civilians for the first eight days of the conflict? What about when Israel trapped thousands of Gazans in the Sinai desert for two weeks by refusing to open the crossing? What about when Israeli jets flattened block after block of residential buildings in Beirut? Did they not expect, you know, residents to be living in there? What about when Israel ordered 800,000 people to become refugees in their own country, or when the IAF bombed a pharmaceutical factory? Was that in an attempt to avoid civilian suffering? In any event, Israel has killed far more civilians compared to combatants than Hizbullah has.

When these arguments have been exhausted, the apologist usually starts repeating themselves or shouting insults.

Ah well, you can but try…
SOURCE:
Blogcritics.org: The Apologist's Toolbox: Straw Man, Fallacy, and Ignorance


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TPMmuckraker: WSJ: Dirty-Tricks Firm Tied to Anti-Gore Video

TPMmuckraker August 3, 2006 02:36 PM: "By Justin Rood - August 3, 2006, 2:36 PM

The Wall Street Journal article today fingering dirty-tricks firm DCI Group did not evade our notice.

The PR firm's colorful history includes a fake grassroots movement using the personae of dead people, paying $4,000 a head for seniors who would say nice things about the disastrous Medicare discount drug card, and a disingenuous attack on Eric Schlosser's burger-bashing 'Fast Food Nation.' (They also enjoy the assistance of Swift Boat Veterans' Chris LaCivitas.) Oh, and it's the former dirty-tricks HQ for James Tobin, convicted New Hampshire Phone Jammer.

Now, according to the WSJ, the firm appears to have paid for an anonymous video artist to create an attack video on YouTube that makes meanspirited fun of Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth.'

These Eddie Haskells of the right don't pull these stunts for their own amusement, of course; they're bankrolled by very large companies, interest groups, and foreign despots. In this case, the Journal implies they may have used money from big oil companies. (Exxon, however, told the paper they played no role in funding or producing the mini-flick.)

Update: Paul watched the video and declared it 'lame.'"

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People still too human for Stephen Hawking | The Register

By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Published Friday 4th August 2006 06:02 GMT

"Did you have fun with your robot buddy?"
--Homer Simpson to Lisa Simpson, on Stephen Hawking's departure


"How can the human race survive the next hundred years?" Stephen Hawking wants to know. So much so that he posted the question on line (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/?qid=20060704195516AAnrdOD), in quest of enlightenment from the Netizen masses and their collective wisdom.

At the heart of Hawking's quest is a profound pessimism, and a tremendous ignorance of history. "Before the 1940s, the main threat to our survival came from collisions with asteroids," he writes. He is thinking of nuclear weapons, and their collective capacity to render the Earth virtually sterile, just as a bad encounter with, say, 200-km-diameter asteroid could do.

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The nuclear threat is substantial, but let's be realistic: it's only one self-inflicted way, among numerous natural ways, for our species to meet its end. Admittedly, it would be regrettable if we should become the architects our demise, but we shall be just as dead if famine, disease, natural climate change, or geological catastrophe spirits us all away.

Hawking frets also about man-made global warming, and the possibility that we will "pass a tipping point at which the temperature rise becomes self sustaining."

Now, it's absolutely certain that the Earth's temperature has been rising of late, and it's absolutely certain that human activity is contributing to that rise. The problem is, no one knows the portion of global warming that our incontinent release of carbon into the atmosphere represents. The true figure is somewhere between "hardly any of it" and "nearly all of it."1

Again, it would be unfortunate if we were to die as a species by our own hand. But climate change happens, and the human race has already survived a natural, and quite radical, one: it's called the Ice Age. Our ancestors were here before it; no doubt millions perished during it; and yet we are here after it.

No doubt it cost us collectively. It's entirely possible that, during the Ice Age, there were advanced civilizations in the coastal regions of all the continents that have been lost - swallowed by the rising seas and buried under yards of silt - whose remains, invisible to us, lie but a few miles off shore in scores of locations around the globe.

Of course, it's entirely possible that there were no such civilizations. But if there were, the wisdom that we lost might never be recovered; and yet, here we all are. We certainly lost a lot of people: some genetic studies suggest that the human population might have fallen to merely tens of thousands at the worst point of the Ice Age, poised to eliminate itself with a few bad decisions (a point Hawking imagines to have arrived only in the 1940's); and yet, here we all are.

"There are other dangers, such as the accidental or intentional release of a genetically engineered virus," Hawking says. Note the presumption that a genetically engineered pathogen would be more deadly than the Black Death, the Spanish flu, or HIV. Mankind has seen its deadly pandemics, and yet, mysteriously, we continue to draw breath.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they landed in a world with few deadly communicable pathogens, perhaps owing to the savages' queer habit of not sleeping with their livestock, as their more advanced conquerors had been doing for millennia. In any event, tens of millions perished. Meanwhile, back in Europe, the Black Death returned numerous times, threatening what had become, and what remains, the world's most advanced civilization. And yet, here we all are.

As for geological catastrophes, there is a caldera in the islands of Santorini from a volcano that erupted in the Bronze Age, and may well have caused a flood that destroyed the Minoans - then the world's most advanced civilization - and spawned the legends of Atlantis and the great flood described in Genesis. And there is a caldera in North America - called the Yellowstone - from a volcano so massive that, when it blows, it will make the worst nuclear war we can mount today look like a garden party. And it looks as much like blowing tomorrow as in half a million years.

And yet we manage to go on.

Poor Stephen; he ought to read more and spend less time thinking on his own. There is a serious danger, when one is surrounded by flatterers and apple polishers, and is permitted to think in isolation, of going mad. One's thoughts must perpetually be challenged, tested, and pollinated by others to be kept healthy. One gets the sense of a man whose ideas have not been challenged in decades, and are stagnating, even putrefying.

We see this most clearly as Hawking goes Star Trek on us, and suggests that "the long-term survival of the human race will be safe only if we spread out into space, and then to other stars".

Look, the human race will not be saved by space colonization. There are many reasons why not, but here are two: First, diverting the resources needed to prepare, launch, and maintain a growing (or "viable" in the illiterate language of technology) extra-terrestrial colony would cost the lives of billions of humans here on Earth.

We might send explorers to other places in the solar system to return, or to die there, relatively cheaply; but providing for their eventual self-sufficiency will exceed the resources we can spare, plus the available resources of the host place, which will necessarily offer little useful to humans because we didn't evolve there.

Second, like all living things, we are partly a product of our environment: there is a definite "somewhereness" about us - so much so that it is impossible to speak intelligently about humanity outside the context of planet Earth. If we adapt to some radically different world, we will cease to be human.

So, Hawking's imaginary colonists will either die at great expense to those left behind, or miraculously mutate into something so radically different that the word "human" becomes meaningless.

Hawking's final hope is that we can (and should) breed the very humanity out of human beings, in some pathetic quest of immortality. "Perhaps we must hope that genetic engineering will make us wise and less aggressive," he writes.

Genetic engineering will make us better. Not long ago, there was an influential group of folks who shared that belief, although they used the name "eugenics" in place of "genetic engineering" back in those days. A number of those folks were hanged in a German city called Nuremberg.

But the deeper suggestion here, that we humans, as nature made us, are bad and stupid and should be ashamed of ourselves, is the suggestion of a colossal ignoramus.

We are mortal, both individually and as a species, and we know that we're mortal. And that makes us greater than anything in nature, and anything that Man has yet conceived. Mortality makes us superior even to the gods that we have proposed. They can't die; we can, and we do. And we know it. When we act, we know that it might be final. Nothing the gods do can't be undone; they risk nothing, but we risk everything. We have courage; the gods do not.

Yes, we are passionate, and foolish, and violent. And courageous, and artistic, and creative. We've survived numerous close calls, some of our making, some not. We might yet destroy ourselves, or be destroyed by some natural phenomenon. Death has been our close companion and a constant reminder of our frailty for as long as we've been human. But to be disturbed by that is to be disturbed by the very idea of humanity - to suggest that we're too human. And that requires an almost inhuman blend of cowardice and ignorance. ®

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1. I should add that it's irresponsible to do nothing about global warming merely because it might not be our fault. If an unoccupied car rolls down a hill toward you, you step out of the way, at least if you're sane. You don't stand in its path complaining that someone else failed to set the brake. Just so, we should do all we can to alleviate global warming, even if our activities have little effect one way or the other. We don't know that we can't improve the situation; therefore, we're obliged to try.
SOURCE:
People still too human for Stephen Hawking


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The Truth About Cars - SUV’s: The Worst of All Possible Worlds

By Robert Farago
August 2nd, 2006

Speaking of sports utility vehicles, consider the philosophy developed by Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism identified pain and pleasure as the only absolutes and declared that “whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people” is, well, great (even if it isn’t so great for the people who don’t make the cut). By this standard, America’s gas-guzzling SUV’s were once a very good thing; the lumbering behemoths brought the majority of American motorists tremendous, not-to-say guilt free pleasure. And then, they didn’t. And now Detroit’s feeling the pain.

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In July, GM’s truck sales slipped 31.2%, Ford’s fell 44.8% and Chrysler’s dropped 41%. Obviously, the whole SUV thing is on the skids. Sure, thousands of Big Three executives and middle managers continue to hold a candle for the genre, hoping against hope that America’s automotive “fickleness” resolves itself, so that the gold rush can resume. But any rational person knows that the winds of change have blown that candle out. Any car company with a truck-heavy sales mix, any automobile manufacturer without a competitive line of cars, is, as they say, shit out of luck.

Baby, baby, baby; where did our love go? The simple answer: gas prices went up and truck buyers bailed out. The more accurate answer: Americans were bored of their SUV’s long before triple digit refills. The rising cost of gas simply cranked-up the average SUV buyer’s automotive ennui. I mean, why pay a premium at the pump for something you’re not so crazy about in the first place– especially if it’s trying to kill you. Yes, there is that. I reckon SUV’s music died when the Ford Explorer burst tire rollover debacle debuted. The genre’s Marlboro Man image was revealed as something of a cruel joke. Customers started asking questions.

Like what the Hell am I doing driving an SUV? Take away the SUV’s mantle of invincibility and all you’re left with is a large, tippy-over feeling, fuel-sucking vehicle that’s not very good at carrying kit and caboodle and damn hard to park. Obviously, some buyers drove SUV’s because they were the best vehicle for the job, a cheap way to tow, ford (small f) and schlep through challenging terrain and conditions. But the majority of SUV owners were simply indulging in an automotive fad. When the vehicular fashion statement was [literally] up-ended by thoughts of death, it was only a matter of time before it completely lost its luster.

Even as the SUV boom boomed, the media and social groups sowed the seeds of its demise. They demonized SUV’s for their lack of safety (and killer prows), environmental damage and prodigious thirst. It was the anti-fur thing all over again: a small group of highly motivated activists forcing a sea change in public perception. The anti-SUV groups’ one-two-three punch set ‘em up, gas prices knocked ‘em down.

These days, the SUV’s owners face a new problem: how to ditch their trucks when everyone else is trying to do the same. Trade-in values on SUV’s are so low they’re laughable– unless you happen to hold paper on one. Which creates a vicious circle; if you get burned on your old SUV, you sure as Hell ain’t gonna buy a new one. As hard as it is to believe, Detroit has an even bigger problem than how to coax SUV buyers out of their old rigs into a new one without giving all the trucks’ profits away. Now what?

Now nothing. The Big Three’s mainstream products are on a three year development cycle. We’re not even a year into Detroit’s realization that yes, SUV sales have tanked and they ain’t coming back. (“We’re selling Tahoes as fast as we can make them” Bob Lutz. 3.1.06) While the automakers are rushing new cars and strange beasts (i.e. crossovers) into their lineups, hoping to catch the “next big thing” before they’re sucked into Chapter 11 or divestiture, these non-truck products must compete against lean, mean competitors who own the car market lock, stock and market share. And as much as they’re trying, the Big Three can’t simply shut off the SUV spigot. Inventories of unsold SUV’s will get a lot worse before they get any better.

What a travesty. While American liberals feel vindicated at the mere mention of the Bush administration’s “intelligence failure” in Iraq, few auto industry reporters have made much of Detroit’s abject failure to anticipate the shift away from SUV’s. This despite the fact that all three Detroit automakers shell-out tens of millions of dollars to Armani-clad consultants to detect, analyze and forecast consumer trends, to create forward planning. Clearly, Detroit no longer knows how to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of American consumers. And that means that they're not so great anymore.
SOURCE:
The Truth About Cars SUV’s: The Worst of All Possible Worlds


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