Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welcome To The EU

The currency police have their work cut out for them
European Union officials insist it’s not a criminal offense to sell goods in pounds and ounces. They should tell that to the people prosecuting 63-year-old Janet Devers, who runs a fruit and vegetable stand in East London. Police seized nonmetric scales from her stand in September, and just before Christmas, authorities informed her they were charging her with 13 counts of violating laws requiring British merchants to sell in metric units. She faces a fine of up to £5,000 on each charge.
But what if she wants to pay in pounds? Would that be allowed?

The Other Horse Race

In case you haven't noticed, there's another race that's being just as fiercely contested as the one between Hillary and Obama:
As Paul's surprising bid for the GOP nomination winds down, it's clear that it was a boon for the LP after all. Paul's fundraising and gadfly debate performances got national pundits talking about the libertarian vote. 'I'm amazed at how often I hear that word in the mainstream media now,' says 2004 LP nominee Michael Badnarik. 'Four years ago it was a curse word.' Paul indirectly drew three high-profile candidates into the race. Bob Barr, an LP leader since 2006, introduced Paul at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a rousing speech that ramped up the movement to draft him. Mary Ruwart, a left-libertarian author as renowned in LP circles as she is obscure outside of them, re-engaged in electoral politics to support Paul, then jumped into the race as Paul withdrew. Mike Gravel, the biggest-name convert to the party since, well, Barr, made the leap in part because Paul was so successful at raising money.

The result of all this manuevering is a wild, unpredictable, and possibly disastrous battle for the LP nod. Every faction of the party is represented in the race, and the 702 delegates and 146 alternates slated to go to the national nominating convention over Memorial Day weekend are up for grabs. They will vote until one candidate scores an absolute majority.
Ron Paul may have been the best thing to happen for independent voters in a long time, in that he captured a mood of rebellion that will be difficult to ignore in the future, but this is why I'm not completely sold on the idea of going third party. If it's a choice between either/or, I'd still go with the lesser of two evils that sounded somewhat sane.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wholesome Is The New Cool

Is Hollyweird finally getting the message?
America is in the throes of a raging decency epidemic. On American Idol, TV’s perennial ratings champ, even the edgiest contestants are a temporary-tattoo-removal away from blending in at an Osmond Family reunion. Reigning Disney Channel poppet Miley Cyrus oozes 100-proof adorableness so relentlessly that one suspects she actually has tiny little paws instead of hands and feet. The casts of tween favorites like Zoey 101 and High School Musical are so wholesome they make those hoodlums from Saved by the Bell look like extras in a Scorsese film.

Of the 20 movies that got the widest circulation in 2007, only two were rated R. From 2005 to 2007, during the traditional summer movie season—the first weekend of May through Labor Day—only 40 R-rated movies and zero NC-17 movies opened up in 500 or more theaters. According to the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, this represents just 29 percent of movies in wide release.

In September 2006, Fox established a stand-alone division called Fox Faith to distribute movies with strong Christian themes. It also partnered with Walden Media—the production company created by billionaire Phillip Anschutz that has developed such hits as Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—with the aim of producing a half-dozen family-friendly movies a year.

Even Hollywood’s bad boys are going soft. During their tenure at Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein released movies like Priest, Kids, and Dogma, and were only slightly less reviled than gay marriage amongst the family values brigade. At their new gig, the Weinstein Company, they’ve signed a multi-year first-look deal with Impact Entertainment, a Christian production company.

“Studios who in the past weren’t even interested in talking to us about this kind of stuff are submitting products to us on a regular basis,” says the CAMIEs’ Joseph Lake. “This year, we could have picked 20 movies to honor. Or even more—there were that many really good ones.” The Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization that encourages the “production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment,” issued its blue-and-white “Family-Approved Seal” to 58 feature films released in 2007.
As long as this is being consumer-driven, I don't have a problem with it. It does seem that the Morality Police are out of touch with what's actually going on.

McCain's Prescription

Hmm, this is a bit disappointing, if true:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is proposing a greater federal commitment to people without health insurance on Tuesday, suggesting that it help funds states to set up non-profit risk pools to help Americans who are denied coverage or can’t afford it.

McCain’s health-policy experts provided a ballpark estimate of $7 billion a year for the new federal commitment.

“Cooperation among states in the purchase of insurance would … be a crucial step in ridding the market of both needless and costly regulations, and the dominance in the market of only a few insurance companies,” McCain says in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday morning in Tampa, Fla.

McCain is announcing his “Guaranteed Access Plan” on the second day of a “Call To Action” health-care tour that will later take him to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Colorado.
Notice that he's not going nearly as far as Hillary has-he's still saying that it should be done more at the state level-but personally I'm tired of the pandering over health care. You're either for socialized medicine or not. You can't try to have it both ways.

Money Management

Is this really a good idea?
The Federal Reserve could use proposed new regulatory powers to try to stop credit and asset market excesses from reaching the point where they threaten economic stability, the US Treasury said on Tuesday.

David Nason, assistant secretary for financial institutions, said the Fed could even use its proposed “macro-prudential” authority to order banks, hedge funds and other entities to curtail strategies that put financial stability at risk.

By “leaning against the wind” in this way, the US central bank could “attempt to prevent broad economic dislocations caused by potential excesses”, he said.

His comments come amid debate inside the Fed as to whether it should try to do more to contain asset price bubbles, following the housing and dotcom busts. Some see enhanced regulatory powers as a better tool for this than interest rates.
Bear in mind, all this is happening under a Republican administration. Feel better now?

Mr. Matthews Goes To Washington

Well, if Al Franken can be considered a serious political contender, why not this guy?
The possibility of the host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' Christopher Matthews, running against Senator Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican, for Mr. Specter's senate seat in Pennsylvania is intensifying.

Although Mr. Matthews said to Bill Maher of HBO that he's 'not getting involved in it' when asked about whether he would seek the position in 2010, it is odd to employ his television program in a way that would make him a favorable candidate to run for senator of Pennsylvania as a Democrat.

Mr. Matthews, who is from the Philadelphia area, broadcasted his show from Philadelphia during the week of the Pennsylvania primary. Political figures that appeared on his national show were the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and an African-American congressman of Philadelphia, Chaka Fattah. In addition, Mr. Matthews interviewed on 'Hardball' the chairmen of the Democratic committees of Allegheny, Montgomery, and Lackawanna counties, James Burn Jr., Marcel Groen, and Harry McGrath, local figures vital to any statewide candidacy.
They say politis is show business for ugly people. Sometimes journalism can be that way, too.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Speed Of Sound

Coldplay have seen the future, and it's free.
Coldplay are to give away a free download of Violet Hill, the first single from their new album, for one week via their website.

The song will be available on Tuesday, with a normal digital release scheduled for 6 May.
The release of the album Viva La Vida or Death and all his Friends has been moved forward to 12 June in the UK.

The band have also announced plans to give away tickets to two free concerts in June, in New York and London.

The gigs will take place at London's Brixton Academy on 16 June and at New York's Madison Gardens on 23 June. Details of how to win tickets will be posted on the Coldplay website.

Free music

The download move follows a shift away from traditional sales by various acts last year.
Last June, Prince gave away copies of his album Planet Earth with the Mail on Sunday newspaper, and indie band The Charlatans gave away a free download of their new album on radio station XFM's website.

In October, Radiohead let fans decide how much they wanted to pay to download their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, from their official website.

A free 7-inch vinyl single of Coldplay's Violet Hill will also be given away on the cover of music weekly NME on 7 May.

The vinyl version will also include the track A Spell A Rebel Yell, which will not be available anywhere else.
And the downward spiral of the traditional music industry continues.

Toy Story

It has come to this: Abby Dinnerjacket's minions are scared of Barbie and Ken.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - A top Iranian judiciary official warned Monday against the 'destructive' cultural and social consequences of importing Barbie dolls and other Western toys.

Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi said in an official letter to Vice President Parviz Davoudi that the Western toys was a 'danger' that needed to be stopped.

'The irregular importation of such toys, which unfortunately arrive through unofficial sources and smuggling, is destructive culturally and a social danger,' Najafabadi said in his letter, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press.

Iranian markets have been inundated with smuggled Western toys in recent years partly due to a dramatic rise in purchasing power as a result of increased oil revenues.

While importing the toys is not necessarily illegal, it is discouraged by a government that made its name on preserving Iran from Western cultural influences.

In Monday's letter, Najafabadi said the increasing visibility of Western dolls was raising the alarm among authorities who were considering intervening.

'The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter ... as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to the officials in the cultural arena,' the letter said.
There is something seriously wrong with a government that is afraid of plastic dolls.

Just Call Him Slim

You'd think he'd be grateful:
BENTONVILLE, Ark. - An inmate awaiting trial on a murder charge is suing the county, complaining he has lost more than 100 pounds because of the jailhouse menu.

Broderick Lloyd Laswell says he isn't happy that he's down to 308 pounds after eight months in the Benton County jail. He has filed a federal lawsuit complaining the jail doesn't provide inmates with enough food.

According to the suit, Laswell weighed 413 pounds when he was jailed in September. Police say he and a co-defendant fatally beat and stabbed a man, then set his home on fire.

'On several occasions I have started to do some exercising and my vision went blurry and I felt like I was going to pass out,' Laswell wrote in his complaint. 'About an hour after each meal my stomach starts to hurt and growl. I feel hungry again.'

But Laswell then goes on to complain that he undertakes little vigorous activity.

'If we are in a small pod all day (and) do next to nothing for physical exercise, we should not lose weight,' the suit says. 'The only reason we lost weight in here is because we are literally being starved to death.'
You'd think he'd have already lost some weight running from the police.

Dead Dictator Weeping

Saddam's personality cult still lives.
AWJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iraqi schoolchildren were brought to the modest mausoleum of Saddam Hussein on Monday to celebrate the birthday of the executed dictator in the village where he was born.

Saddam, who was hanged in late 2006 for crimes against humanity, is hated in much of Iraq. But in parts of his native Salahuddin Province, especially among his fellow Sunni Arabs, he is still revered.

'Bush, Bush you low-life! Saddam's blood is not cheap!' a crowd of pupils in white uniforms from a nearby girls' school chanted while standing around Saddam's grave in the mausoleum where he is buried among displays and photos of his reign.

'There are two things we will never give up: Saddam and Iraq!' the girls chanted. Several of them wept.
Maybe they could dig him up and take him out on tour...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

No Room For Shrooms

It's the end of an era:
The Dutch cabinet has proposed a ban on the sale of all hallucinogenic 'magic' mushrooms because they could induce life-threatening behaviour.

A bill will now pass to the Dutch parliament, where a majority of lawmakers are expected to back a ban after a teenage French girl who had eaten mushrooms died jumping from a bridge in 2007.

While dried magic mushrooms are illegal in the Netherlands, fresh mushrooms can still be bought openly in so-called 'Smart Shops'.

Posters in Smart Shops outline the effects the mushrooms have and whether users are more likely to feel chatty or exhilarated, for example.

'The use of mushrooms can produce hallucinogenic effects which can lead to extreme or life-threatening behaviour,' the health ministry said in a statement late on Friday after the cabinet decision.
We often complain that the Europeans don't like us. In some areas, they are perhaps becoming more like us than we'd like to admit.

Dude, Where's My Nuke?

This is what happens when you do business with thugs-they always want more:
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran demanded Sunday that Azerbaijan deliver a Russian shipment of nuclear equipment blocked at its border with Iran for the past three weeks.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in his weekly briefing that his country has asked the Azerbaijani ambassador in Iran to get his government 'to deliver the shipment as soon as possible.'

The blocked nuclear equipment 'is in the framework of Iran-Russia cooperation' and there should be 'no ban on it,' he said about the shipment destined for a Russian-built nuclear reactor in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr.

Azerbaijan has said it was seeking more information about the shipment due to fears that it might violate any of the three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran over its failure to halt uranium enrichment.
Well, at least somebody's paying attention.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Two R's

Two competing views on religion versus reason. First, this:
If religion isn't the greatest threat to rationality and scientific progress, what is? Perhaps alcohol, or television, or addictive video games. But although each of these scourges - mixed blessings, in fact - has the power to overwhelm our best judgment and cloud our critical faculties, religion has a feature of that none of them can boast: it doesn't just disable, it honours the disability. People are revered for their capacity to live in a dream world, to shield their minds from factual knowledge and make the major decisions of their lives by consulting voices in their heads that they call forth by rituals designed to intoxicate them.

It used to be the case that we tended to excuse drunk drivers when they crashed because they weren't entirely in control of their faculties at the time, but now we have wisely inverted that judgment, holding drunk drivers doubly culpable for putting themselves in that irresponsible position in the first place. It is high time we inverted the public attitude about religion as well, finding all socially destructive acts of religious passion shameful, not honourable, and holding those who abet them - the preachers and other apologists for religious zeal - as culpable as the bartenders and negligent hosts who usher dangerous drivers on to the highways. Our motto should be: Friends don't let friends steer their lives by religion.
And now, this:
Dennett seems to believe science is "the truth". Like many of my brilliant scientific colleagues, he conveys the notion that science is about a kind of certainty. For example, in his book Breaking the Spell, he quotes Eva Jablonka in support of his views on memes. He forgets that she challenges the very essence of Dawkins's view of evolution - a view Dennett obviously passionately supports.

(snip)

The problem is that scientists now too frequently believe we have the answers to these questions, and hence the mysteries of life. But, oddly, the more we use science to explore nature, the more we find things we do not understand and cannot explain. In reality, both religion and science are expressions of man's uncertainty. Perhaps the paradox is that certainty, whether it be in science or religion, is dangerous. The danger of Dennett's relatively gentle brand of certainty is that it increases polarisation in our society. With inflexible positions on both sides, certainty surely is the biggest threat to rationality, and to science.
I tend to be an agnostic when it comes to organized religion, and I know that devout belief can be like an addiction for some people. But the real issue, it seems, isn't either/or, it's dogmatic attitudes in both. While I would still put more trust in science to explain life's mysteries and to solve our current problems, that doesn't mean there's no room for faith in the modern world. But it needs to be put into its proper context-as a guide for living, not necessarily as an Ultimate Truth as to what you should believe in. In the same regard, skepticism is healthy and good for you (I display mine all the time), yet at the same time it would be arrogant for us to assume we know everything. Rigid fundamentalism exists in both sides; perhaps what's needed is a way to find some common ground.

A Uniter, Not A Divider

When conservatives and liberals can actually agree on something, you know it's a bad idea.
The Left is partly to blame just because they labor under the illusion that state planning can bring about better economic results. If ethanol is bad, then they might say we're just not subsidizing the right thing.

But today, liberal environmentalists are not the ones pushing ethanol. It's Agribusiness, all the way. Most reputable liberals believe ethanol to be a big joke — an enormous corporate welfare subsidy with no real benefits and many downsides.

On many issues, Conservatives have more in common with ideological liberals than we do with the business interests that come to Washington looking for a handout. Our goal should be to persuade the Left — to use clear failures we agree on, like ethanol — to demonstrate that Big Business will always come to Washington for handouts until Washington stops giving them altogether. Each new handout is the next ethanol, the next sugar — and once you've started giving a handout, it never ends.
Corporate subsidies for biofuel can be just as bad as subsidies anywhere else-it encourages laziness and doesn't solve the real issue at hand.

Friday, April 25, 2008

No Smoke, No Fire

On the subject of smoking bans, we have the down side of what happens when they come to the hallowed halls of bingo playing.
Banning smoking at charity bingo games may have health benefits, but it is proving harmful to earnings.

In Minnesota, which adopted a statewide ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces in October, revenue from all charity gambling dropped nearly 13 percent in the last quarter of 2007, compared to the same quarter the year before, according to state officials. More than half of the drop — the equivalent of about $100 million annually — was attributed to the new law, they said.

Charlie Lindstrom, who runs the bingo nights at an American Legion post in Fergus Falls, Minn., said some of his former customers now drove to casinos on Indian reservations, where they can puff away, or across the border to Fargo, N.D., where veterans’ organizations are exempt from that state’s smoking ban.

On a good night, Mr. Lindstrom said, bingo at the post used to attract 50 to 75 players. Nowadays it is more like 30 or 40.

“It’s had a profound effect on us here,” Mr. Lindstrom said. “We’ve sponsored several baseball teams here in the past, but we can’t give as much now because the smoking ban has really reduced our revenue.”
Maybe more of us should join Indian tribes-they seem to be the only ones who can still do what they want these days.

Waiting To Incarcerate

In case you hadn't heard, Wesley Snipe will be doing time.
OCALA, Fla. (AP) — Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison on tax charges Thursday, a victory for prosecutors who sought to make an example of the action star by aggressively pursuing the maximum penalty.

Snipes' lawyers had spent much of the day in court offering dozens of letters from family members, friends — even fellow actors Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington — attesting to the good character of the 'Blade' star and asking for leniency. They argued he should get only probation because his three convictions were all misdemeanors and the actor had no previous criminal record.

But U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said Snipes exhibited a 'history of contempt over a period of time' for U.S. tax laws, and granted prosecutors the three year sentence they requested — one year for each of Snipes' convictions of willfully failing to file a tax return.

'In my mind these are serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors,' Hodges said.

Snipes apologized while reading from a written statement for his 'costly mistakes,' but never mentioned the word taxes.

'I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance,' Snipes said.
"I know nothing of this income tax evasion of which you speak..."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hold The Bottle

The Bottle Police are coming.
The party is coming to an end for Grey Goose-swilling big shots as the city’s licensing czar says he’s banning “bottle service,” an expensive perk that draws high-rollers to Hub hotspots.

The service - a staple in exclusive nightclubs from Miami to Manhattan to Las Vegas - allows big spenders to have private VIP tables in exchange for purchasing a bottle of high-end booze, usually for $300 or more. Servers bring buckets of ice, tumblers and non-alcoholic mixers to make cocktails.

But Boston Licensing Board Chairman Daniel Pokaski is cracking down, saying the pricey service violates state and city alcohol laws.

“This is totally prohibited and it won’t be tolerated,” Pokaski said. “It’s not going to happen in Boston. It’s just wrong. It forces alcohol consumption.”
Well, I guess this means that Ted Kennedy won't be coming to Beantown any time soon. And the rationale for this bottle prohibition?
But Pokaski argued that because bottles are so expensive, customers inevitably down all the booze. He said the practice conflicts with a citywide crackdown on trouble-plagued clubs and an effort to cut down on overserving barkeeps.

“We’re not New York and we’re not South Beach,” he said. “The city of Boston has a lot more to offer than just getting people inebriated. If all they can offer their clientele is just swilling down alcohol, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the business.”
Well, score one for the Blue Bloods then. We all know none of them ever cause any trouble, right?

When Government Works For You

What's wrong with a little inefficiency?
According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, since 2001 U.S. Customs and Border Protection has failed to collect more than $600 million in duties that should have been imposed on imported goods 'to remedy injurious unfair foreign trade practices.' Specifically, the goods, mainly food products from China, were sold at 'unfairly low prices,' thereby violating 'anti-dumping' rules. Due to CBP's dereliction of duty, American consumers presumably paid less than the government thinks they should for garlic, honey, mushrooms, and crawfish tail meat.
More like this, please. The government that governs least, and all that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

War Of Words

It has begun:
INEZ, Ky. (AP) — Republican John McCain on Wednesday asked the North Carolina GOP not to run a television ad that brings up the controversial former pastor of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

North Carolina Republican party officials insisted the ad will run as planned despite McCain's request.

The ad opens with a photo of Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright together and a clip of Wright, whose incendiary comments about race have bedeviled Obama.

'He's just too extreme for North Carolina,' the narrator says in the 30-second spot.

'We asked them not to run it,' McCain told reporters traveling with him in Kentucky. 'I'm sending them an e-mail as we speak asking them to take it down.

'I don't know why they do it. Obviously, I don't control them, but I'm making it very clear, as I have a couple of times in the past, that there's no place for that kind of campaigning, and the American people don't want it,' McCain said.

McCain said the ad was described to him: 'I didn't see it, and I hope that I don't see it.'
Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, who accompanied McCain, said he had left a voice mail message for state party chairwoman Linda Daves asking her to pull the ad.

McCain, in an e-mail to Daves, said he will draw sharp contrasts with Democrats. 'But we need not engage in political tactics that only seek to divide the American people.'
Unfortunately, McCain's pleas are falling on deaf ears. This is the modern Republican Party, where the tactics of Karl Rove have taken over. Real isues are for wimps, not real Republicans.

Taking A Stand

This is good news:
Nearly 70 percent of Italian gynecologists now refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds and the number is increasing, a report by the country's ministry of health said Tuesday.

Abortion was legalised in 1978 in Italy but pressure from the Vatican -- which is strongly opposed to abortion -- enabled doctors to claim a 'conscientious objection' clause and refuse to carry out terminations.

Between 2003 and 2007 the number of gynecologists claiming the conscience clause to avoid carrying out abortions rose from 58.7 percent to 69.2 percent, according to the report.
For anesthetists helping in abortions, the figure of those refusing to participate rose from 45.7 percent to 50.4 percent.

'In the south, this increase is even more pronounced and in certain areas the rate has almost doubled,' the report adds. In Campania, the region around Naples, the proportion of gynecologists refusing to carry out the procedure reached 83 percent, and in Sicily 84.2 percent.
This is important because these doctors are making a personal decision; this is not something that is being mandated from the government. Personal choice still exists; and the doctors are exercising theirs.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who Speaks For The Dead White Men?

Hmm, I'm not so sure about this.
Arizona public schools would be barred from any teachings considered counter to democracy or Western civilization under a proposal endorsed Wednesday by a legislative panel.

Additionally, the measure would prohibit students of the state's universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race of their members, such as the Black Business Students Association at Arizona State University or Native Americans United at Northern Arizona University. Those groups would be forbidden from operating on campus.

The brainchild of Rep. Russell Pearce, the measure appeared as an amendment to Senate Bill 1108, which originally would have made minor changes to the state's Homeland Security advisory councils. The House Appropriations Committee approved the new proposal on a 9-6 vote.

Pearce, a Mesa Republican, said his target isn't diversity instruction, but schools that use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate students in what he characterized as anti-American or seditious thinking. The measure is at least partially a response to a controversy surrounding an ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, which critics have said is unpatriotic and teaches revolution.

SB 1108 states, "A primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship. Public tax dollars used in public schools should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization."

For schools that violate the anti-Western-teachings provision, the bill provides the state superintendent of public instruction with the authority to withhold a portion of state funding.

Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state's schools to a "melting pot" model.

"This bill basically says, 'You're here. Adopt American values,' " said Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican. "If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture."
Now, I'm all for ending the stranglehold that polical correctness in the name of "Diversity" has on our schools. But while this might be the sort of thing that Pat Buchanan would do cartwheels over, it might not be so good for real debate. Even idiots have the right to gather and speak, if not at taxpayer expense.

Bread Crumbs Of The Revolution

The good news about food prices? They make dictators nervous:
It's well known that the run-up in oil prices in recent years has had the unpleasant consequence of enlivening autocrats in oil-producing countries, from Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hugo Chávez. Now the latest swing in global commodities seems to be triggering a reverse effect: As prices for bread and rice soar, dictators are tottering.

Oddly, one of them is Chávez, who lost a constitutional referendum in December partly because of the combination of soaring food prices and shortages he has inflicted on Venezuela. Another is Robert Mugabe, who to his surprise lost a presidential election in Zimbabwe three weeks ago, though he has yet to admit it. According to the U.N. World Food Program, the government of North Korea faces another food crisis; bread prices explain in part why Pervez Musharraf lost control of Pakistan's government in February.

Then there is Egypt, where the link between food and freedom -- or the lack of it -- has never been clearer. For more than half a century, the Arab world's most populous country has been run by a military-backed dictatorship that has supplied its millions of poor with subsidized bread. Consequently, Egypt consumes more bread per capita than France, and the only time the regime's power was seriously challenged came in 1977, when Anwar Sadat's attempt to cut bread subsidies provoked bloody riots.
Appeals to "The People" to continue the march towards a socialist utopia tend to fall on deaf ears when the people literally can't put bread on the table.

Those Keyes Don't Fit

A look inside the weird world of third parties shows why even they might not welcome Alan What's-His-Name with open arms.
THE BIGGEST issue separating Keyes from the Constitution Party is the Iraq war. Keyes has said that he would not have picked Iraq as the next target in the war on terror, but supported the president's policy in debates with Obama four years ago and would not withdraw U.S. troops today. His new party, however favors a noninterventionist foreign policy and opposes the war. This is not an insignificant difference of opinion.

Ricardo Davis, the state party chairman for Georgia, says any attempt to abandon the antiwar stance will go over about as well as the New Coke. "What if I was the new CEO of a midsized company and decided embark on a strategy to sell a 'me too' product that negates the company's unique sales proposition?" he asks. "What if that sales proposition is held dear by most of the sales and marketing management in the company? What do you think will happen to that company as I try to change the company's direction? A train wreck would look prettier!"

Some of the people Keyes might bring with him into the Constitution Party aren't budging in their support for the war, either. A poster on Keyes's web forum argues that "the CP expresses the same naive view as my long time congressional hero Ron Paul did" and questions why a Christian political party wouldn't "understand the nature of the enemy."

Is Keyes cooked? "What you run into are a lot of single-issue pro-lifers who view Alan Keyes as a positive name," says Red Phillips, a paleoconservative who opposes Keyes's nomination. Phillips also worries that other party members will want a well known presidential candidate. "There's talk about us crossing the million vote threshold if we nominate Keyes," he says. "I don't think that's very realistic, since not even Pat Buchanan got a million votes [as the Reform Party nominee] in 2000."
Well, when you're competing for that one percent of the vote, you've got to expect some opposition.

Paging Doctor Obama

Oh, for God's sake:
I know everyone's still preoccupied with Obama's 'bitter' comments, but I'd argue that something he said yesterday is much, much worse:

We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.

Actually, as the WaPo's Michael Dobbs points out, the science isn't inconclusive: numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. But there are plenty of people who don't let the science get in the way of their suspicions. Having two out of the three presidential remaining presidential candidates fan those suspicions--McCain has made comments similar to Obama's--doesn't help matters.
It's kind of the same thing with climate change-which you could at least argue is a real issue. In this case, however, the candidates have apparently seized on the Luddite cause of the moment. Stick to stuff you actually know about, guys-leave the doctoring to actual doctors.

A Dictator Alone

It's just not easy being a third world thug these days.
A Chinese ship carrying arms for Zimbabwe has also become freighted in recent days with diplomatic significance as the vessel has sought accommodation and offloading in subsequent Southern African countries, emphasizing Harare's increasing isolation.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa urged African states Tuesday to bar the An Yue Jiang from their waters, saying unloading and transporting of its cargo of weapons to Zimbabwe could deepen the crisis there following elections in late March.

South African dockworkers refused to unload the ship, said to carry 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar shells. Angolan and Mozambican officials subsequently signaled it is unwelcome in their ports.

The United States has stepped up diplomatic pressure to keep the weapons from getting to Harare. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said Washington asked China not to ship further arms and 'if possible, to bring this one back” to China.
Sorry, Bob, it looks like you're going to have to rely on local thuggery to cling to power.

Black Diamonds

When in doubt, go with the basics:
Over the next five years, Italy will increase its reliance on coal to 33 percent from 14 percent. Power generated by Enel from coal will rise to 50 percent.

And Italy is not alone in its return to coal. Driven by rising demand, record high oil and natural gas prices, concerns over energy security and an aversion to nuclear energy, European countries are slated to build about 50 coal-fired plants over the next five years, plants that will be in use for the next five decades.

In the United States, fewer new coal plants are slated to go on line, in part because it is becoming hard to get regulatory permits and in part because nuclear power remains an alternative.
That darned clean energy we already have available, if the enviro-nuts would allow more of it. Still, technology is catching up. And don't forget those nifty portable nuclear reactors.

Webheads

I have to agree-letting politicians get their grubby fingers on the Web is a bad idea
WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday his agency has all the authority it needs to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against Web surfers and that new legislation is unnecessary.

'I do not believe any additional regulations are needed at this time,' Martin said at a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. 'But I also believe that the commission has a responsibility to enforce the principles that it has already adopted.'

The FCC has conducted two hearings on 'network management' following admissions by Comcast Corp. that it sometimes delayed file-sharing traffic for subscribers as a way to keep Web traffic flowing.

The hearing was called at a time when the issue of 'network neutrality'—the principle that people should be able to go where they choose on the Internet without interference from network owners—has heated up.

The network neutrality debate has divided Congress, with Democrats largely in favor and Republicans mostly opposed, a point that became clearer at Tuesday's committee meeting.
'It is a political division now and it's getting more so,' said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. 'It is unfortunate.' He said a return to 'intense regulation' of the Internet is 'entirely unwarranted.'
Even a broken clock can be right about the Intertubes once. If enough people don't like one service's practices they will let them know by switching providers or getting them to improve service. The last thing the Internet needs is politicians trying to regulate it.

A Terrorist Of One

You know things are tough all over when Al Qaeda can't get recruits.
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised Muslims for failing to support Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and elsewhere in a new audiotape posted Tuesday on the Internet.

Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant also blasted Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas over their reported readiness to consider a peace deal with Israel.

'I call upon the Muslim nation to fear Allah's question (at judgement day) about its failure to support its brothers of the Mujahedeen (holy Warriors), and (urge it) not to withhold men and money, which is the mainstay of a war,' he said.

He also used the two-and-a-half hour message to urge Muslims to join militant groups, mainly in Iraq, where he claimed that the insurgency against the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition forces is bearing fruit.

'I urge all Muslims to hurry to the battlefields of Jihad (holy war), especially in Iraq,' Zawahiri said in the message, the second in a two-part series to answer about 100 questions put to him via online militant forums.

'The situation in Iraq heralds an imminent victory of Islam and the defeat of the crusaders and those who stand under their flag,' he said.

Turning his ire on Hamas, he said the Palestinian group's reported willingness to hold a referendum on any peace deal with Israel flew in the face of Sharia, or Islamic, law.
'How can they put a matter that violates Sharia to a referendum?' he added.
From ranting to whining. That's no way to run a Jihad.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Popcorn Age

This is actually something I've been noticing for quite some time now, too:
What’s missing from Hollywood sci-fi, and what the comic adaptations continue to smother, is a celebration of smarts. The smaller movies have them—films like Sunshine and Primer. In fiction, writers like Charles Stross are pushing the limits of the genre. Maybe next year’s Star Trek reboot will make quantum physics look cool again. And if anyone can return some credibility to science-fiction movies, it’s James Cameron, whose long-gestating Avatar (about a human remote-operating a robot on a distant, alien planet) also shows up next year. And then there’s Watchmen, another comic adaptation, with its own slew of gadgets and improbable tech. Although no explanation is provided in the comic for Nite Owl’s hovering patrol vehicle, Watchmen is not a dumb comic. Its alternate history story is one of the most literary and complex comics ever created. But as another big-budget tent-pole release, it’s just another example of where science fiction is headed.
Now granted, these movies' first purpose is to entertain and make money, not be a science lesson. But for my own part, the golden age of science fiction film was the early 1950s through the late 1990s. At their best, these movies were both fun to watch and provided telling commentary on their times, from Cold War angst (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day The Earth Stood Still) to racial issues (Planet of the Apes) to post-Vietnam, post-Watergate analysis (Soylent Green and Logan's Run) and good old-fashioned fun with a Big Message (Star Wars, Close Encounters). It was a good run, but as with all golden ages it came to an end. Maybe we'll see a renaissance of real science in sci-fi with the game-writing industry, but for now we'll have to settle on the literary side as we did in days of old before science fiction became "Respectable" enough to make it profitable at the box office.

Ministry Of Wimps

What's the latest fundamentalist argument? That traditional churchgoing has turned men into wusses.
The message of Church for Men and GodMen is resonating with ministers of all stripes. Following Murrow's advice, Don Wilson, pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona, has geared his entire ministry toward reaching young men. And while his ministry is not to men in particular, Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, nevertheless desires greater testosterone in contemporary Christianity. In Driscoll's opinion, the church has produced 'a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. … Sixty percent of Christians are chicks,' he explains, 'and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.'

The aspect of church that men find least appealing is its conception of Jesus. Driscoll put this bluntly in his sermon 'Death by Love' at the 2006 Resurgence theology conference (available at TheResurgence.com). According to Driscoll, 'real men' avoid the church because it projects a 'Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ' that 'is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for.' Driscoll explains, 'Jesus was not a long-haired … effeminate-looking dude'; rather, he had 'callused hands and big biceps.' This is the sort of Christ men are drawn to—what Driscoll calls 'Ultimate Fighting Jesus.'
There you go-Jesus as Action Hero. For people who don't approve of homosexuality, these guys seem awfully focused on Jesus' manhood.

A Trough By Any Other Name

Another point of view on McCain's anti-Pork crusade.
Personally, I think that there are two real problems with earmarks. The first has been largely fixed: that they need to be fully transparent. The second is that a lot of genuinely useful projects are funded via earmarks, and earmarks are generally a pretty lousy funding mechanism. There is no earthly reason why infrastructure projects shouldn't be funded according to actual need, instead of being largely funded through earmarks. But this is not an argument for defunding those projects; it's an argument for funding them via a different mechanism. Even using McCain's definition, cutting earmarks don't come close to funding his tax cuts; once we subtract out the genuinely useful programs that have the misfortune to be funded by this silly mechanism, the idea of paying for his tax cuts by cutting earmarks is risible.

To be fair, McCain also promises to eliminate 'myriad corporate tax loopholes' which he doesn't specify, and to freeze discretionary spending for a year, 'with the necessary exemption of military spending and veterans benefits' -- those same military people whose new housing he inadvertently proposed to eliminate. Whoop de do.
I'm in favor of cutting unecessary spending as much as anybody, and I believe if there are to be cuts they should be transparent and across the board. The problem with McCain's approach seems to be that it doesn't solve the real issue-how to keep spending down in the future without raising taxes or making some very unpopular decisions down the road.

Before The Flood

This sounds like an issue that Pat Buchanan and his ilk would sink their teeth into:
Roughly a billion people live on $1 a day. If, on a conservative estimate, the cost of their food rises 20% (and in some places, it has risen a lot more), 100m people could be forced back to this level, the common measure of absolute poverty. In some countries, that would undo all the gains in poverty reduction they have made during the past decade of growth. Because food markets are in turmoil, civil strife is growing; and because trade and openness itself could be undermined, the food crisis of 2008 may become a challenge to globalisation.
I'm not so sure. Yes people are hurting. But in some cases that is as much the fault of their own corrupt governments as it is whatever dispraportionate wealth has been created. I still think trade-fair trade-will be the long-term answer to most of the developing world's economic problems. Institutionalized poverty is simply a very hard nut to crack in countries where the same party has been in power for decades, or where most industries are nationalized.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Final Assault

As the end approaches, Obama notes how much exercize the Clintons have been getting:
In Downingtown, Pa., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., took the remark by the Clinton campaign -- that she would be employing the 'kitchen sink' strategy against him -- a step further.

'You know, over the last several weeks since she fell behind, she's resorted to what's called 'kitchen sink' strategies,' Obama said, per ABC News' Sunlen Miller. 'She's got the kitchen sink flying, and the china flying, and the, you know, the buffet is coming at me.

'And, you know, look, I come from Chicago, I know politics is hard, you know, it's not for the faint of heart, I understand that,' Obama continued. 'But when we end up involved in these constant distractions, these petty, trivial slash-and-burn, back-and-forth, tit-for-tat politics, so that we no longer talk about the things that the American people care about, that may be good for the television ratings, but it's not good for you.'
Well, when the politics of old don't work, and you run out of mud, desparation is pretty much all you've got left. And the Clintons know it.

Mile Higher City

What happens when you get thousands of stoners together in one place?
A crowd of about 10,000 people collectively began counting down on the University of Colorado’s Norlin Quadrangle just before 4:20 p.m. today.

Yet the massive puff of pot smoke that hovers over CU’s Boulder campus every April 20 — the date of an annual, internationally recognized celebration of marijuana — began rising over the sea of heads earlier than normal this year.

“Oh forget it,” one student said, aborting the countdown to 4:20 p.m. and lighting his pipe early. He closed his eyes, taking a deep, long drag.

“Sweet.”
I understand the National Guard had to make emergency drops of Cheetos and cookie dough over the crowd.

"Was It Over When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?"

This picture has been making the rounds of the blogosphere:

Quiet, he's rolling...

Smell You Later

Should flowers be considered an endangered species?
Pollution is dulling the scent of flowers and impeding some of the most basic processes of nature, disrupting insect life and imperilling food supplies, a new study suggests.

The potentially hugely significant research – funded by the blue-chip US National Science Foundation – has found that gases mainly formed from the emissions of car exhausts prevent flowers from attracting bees and other insects in order to pollinate them. And the scientists who have conducted the study fear that insects' ability to repel enemies and attract mates may also be impeded.

The researchers – at the University of Virginia – say that pollution is dramatically cutting the distance travelled by the scent of flowers. Professor Jose Fuentes, who led the study, said: 'Scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 metres. But today they may travel only 200 to 300 metres. This makes it increasingly difficult for bees and other insects to locate the flowers.'
Where have all the flowers gone, indeed.

We Rove Our Country

Hmm. Somehow I don't think defending a Communist dictatorship is the right way to get your anti-discrimination message across.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Chinese-Americans rallied outside CNN's Hollywood office on Saturday to demand the firing of commentator Jack Cafferty for calling China's goods 'junk' and its leaders a 'bunch of goons and thugs.'

'We understand free speech,' Lake Wang, 39, told the Los Angeles Times. 'But what if Cafferty said this about other racial groups? I think he would be fired. I think he's jealous of China.'

A crowd estimated by police at 2,000 to 5,000 gathered, chanting and holding signs that read 'Fire Cafferty' and 'CNN: Chinese Negative News.' The crowd was peaceful, and no arrests were made, police Sgt. David Torres said.

Another two dozen people holding Chinese flags also demonstrated outside CNN's corporate headquarters in Atlanta.
They say they understand free speech-and support a country that doesn't have it. Can you say ironic?

The Spaghetti Monster Needs Love

On why some people prefer blind faith over free will:
Some individuals find it psychologically difficult or impossible to accept the existence of diverse, mutually conflicting authorities. They find that the freedom to choose is a burden and they seek solace in more overarching systems of authority. A predilection for dogmatic authoritarianism is the pathological tendency at this pole. A person in this situation is not necessarily a traditionalist, but essentially gives up faculties of critical judgment in exchange for the convictions supplied by an authority whose rules and provisions cover most aspects of his life. We should distinguish this attitude from faith, even faith in fundamentalist religious codes. For faith almost by definition rests on trust. Taking refuge in a dominant authority, however, is essentially an act of submission. The individual, as it were, no longer needs to engage in the problematic gamble which all trust relations presume. Instead, he or she identifies with a dominant authority on the basis of projection. The psychology of leadership plays an important role here. Submission to authority normally takes the form of a slavish adherence to an authority figure, taken to be all-knowing.
This adherence to a fundamentalist worldview should be seen by all conservatives as diametrically opposed to what conservatism is supposed to be all about. Real conservatism emphasizes personal responsibility, not attributing everything to a mysterious God who seems vague at best and uninterested at worst. The Bible says that God gave us free will-isn't it about time that "Real conservatives" started accepting that?

Fortress Iraq

Bryan Finoki on the subject of security, or the lack thereof:
Can a nation really be successfully rebuilt behind a micro-insertion of blast walls? I also understand that security needs to be obtained first, but will the walls lead to a more long term systemic security? An eradication of these militias? I seriously doubt that.

Essentially, Baghdad is being reconstructed behind a system of neighborhood dams; or, the warfare equivalent of an urban levee network. But, one wonders, when will we celebrate the stories of the walls coming down? Who knows when or how long that story will ever take in Baghdad to surface, or the West Bank, or anywhere else for that matter, aside from perhaps Cyprus (so there may be hope yet).

More than likely, however, we may be hearing more about the levees being blown apart in these street corners (remember the recent Gaza episode?) than being peacefully and politically deconstructed.
In America and most other stable countires, walled communities are status symbols. In other parts of the world they are basically used to turn entire neighborhoods into fortified camps. Keeping the bad guys out is reasonable. Keeping disgruntled people in only tends to breed more resentment.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kofi's Quest

Kofi Annan has suddenly discovered Zimbabwe:
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged African leaders to do more to address the crisis in Zimbabwe.

He said the situation was dangerous and could have an impact beyond the country's borders.
Three weeks after polls were held, the presidential result has yet to be declared. Some of the votes in the parliamentary race are being recounted.

The parliamentary vote was won by the opposition, which insists its candidate defeated President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Annan made his comments to reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where he held talks with Zimbabwean opposition leaders on Friday.

'On the question of Zimbabwe there has been substantial international attention.
'The question which has been posed is: where are the Africans? Where are their leaders and the countries in the region, what are they doing?

'It is a rather dangerous situation. It's a serious crisis with impact beyond Zimbabwe.'
Well, what were you doing about Bob and his goons while you were taking bribes, Kofi?

Passing It Along

Did the rest of Europe fart in Britain's general direction?
Commuters in London and its neighboring towns and villages in southern England woke up to an unusual smell Friday morning: a stink that led many to wonder if the city's sewers had overflowed.

Not even the queen was spared, as newspapers reported that Windsor Castle also suffered from the effects of the putrid smell.

The U.K. Meteorological Office (Met Office) was quick to assure callers that there was no reason to panic.

The foul smell was not English, Sarah Holland, a forecaster for the Met Office told the BBC. 'The origins of the smell come from Europe,' she said.

Blame It on the French? Nice Try

British tabloid, The Daily Mail was quick to attack the French for 'le stink,' reporting that 'freak weather' had caused the 'French stench' to come to England.

But, according to Helen Chivers, a forecaster at the Met Office, the smell actually came across 'from Northern Europe.'

"The weather situation recently has meant that the air over Germany, Belgium and Holland hasn't moved for a while," Chivers explained in an interview with ABC News.

"One doesn't know whether the origins of the smell are industrial or agricultural, but we think it's built up over time, since it was trapped in the atmosphere for a while. That's why it's so intense," she said.
Or maybe the rest of Europe decided to adopt French hygiene, or the lack therof? We may never know...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eat The Rich

First, there's this:

PALM BEACH — In another sign of just how hot the mansion market is, the oceanfront estate built by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel has sold for $81.5 million, a record for the island.

John L. Thornton, 54, a former Goldman Sachs partner and chairman of the Brookings Institution, is the buyer, people familiar with the transaction said.

While the sale price was officially recorded Tuesday at $77.5 million, listing agent Paulette Koch said the buyer also paid $4 million in closing costs. That means Kimmel got his full asking price of $81.5 million.

The deal underscores both the strength of the mansion market and the desirability of Kimmel's home at 1236 S. Ocean Blvd.

"The house was in impeccable condition, with the finest details," said Koch, adding that three other buyers were interested in the property.

The estate boasts 5 lushly landscaped acres and 300 feet of ocean frontage. The 32,000-square-foot home was designed by Thierry Despont, who also created Bill Gates' mansion.
Then there's this:
MOSCOW (Reuters) - One billion dollars is no longer enough to gain entry to Russia's rich list.

Ten billionaires failed to make Forbes magazine's annual list of the 100 richest Russians that is led by those who built their fortunes on the country's metals resources.


Oleg Deripaska, who controls aluminum producer United Company RUSAL among a host of infrastructure, energy and financial assets, tops the latest Forbes list with a fortune of $28.6 billion -- $11.8 billion more than he was worth last year.

Deripaska replaces Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, who drops to third. The two are split by Alexei Mordashov, majority owner of Severstal (CHMF.MM), Russia's largest steel maker.

"After the bankruptcy of YUKOS and the strengthening of the state's position in the energy sector, you can count on one hand the number of oil and gas billionaires," Maxim Kashulinsky, editor of Forbes' Russian edition, said in a statement to accompany the launch of the May edition.

"The main fortunes are concentrated now in metallurgy, finance and property."

Mordashov was the biggest gainer among Russia's richest, adding $12.4 billion to more than double his fortune to $24.5 billion.

Abramovich, in third place, is worth $24.3 billion.

Another steel baron, Novolipetsk Steel (LSE:NLMKQ.L - News) owner Vladimir Lisin, is fourth with a fortune of $23.9 billion.

Forbes said in a statement that Russia's richest 100 people had a combined fortune of $522 billion -- 3.8 times more than the total when Forbes first published a Russian list in 2004.
And finally, there's this.
Haiti's hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples such as beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.

Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal two days ago and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis not only is being felt among the poor, but also is eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out like never before. And in reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by disgruntled voters who cited food and fuel hikes as their primary concerns.

"It's the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years," said Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. "It's a big deal, and it's obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes and I think there's more political fallout to come."
And some people wonder why there's resentment in other parts of the world.

Sheriff Pimp

They're going to have fun with this SOB in the cellblock.
Sheriff Mike Burgess faces charges of coercing and bribing female inmates so he could use them in a “sex-slave operation” out of the Custer County Jail. Burgess resigned early Thursday and appeared in court.

Oklahoma prosecutors filed 35 felony charges against Burgess, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official. Burgess served as the top law officer in the county of 26,000 since 1994.

Among other things, Burgess is accused of having sex with a female drug court participant who was in his custody. The crimes are to have occurred between October 2005 and April 2007.

A federal lawsuit filed in October claims Burgess told one drug court participant he would have her sent to prison if she didn't comply with his sexual demands.
I only hope for his own sake that this moron knows how to give as well as receive.

The War On Bad Taste

It has come to this.
With the arrival of a half-dozen comedies, however, the post-Sept. 11 movie has quite possibly reached a new low.

Consider Boll’s “Postal,” opening nationwide May 23. Touted as a “shock comedy,” the film begins by depicting the Sept. 11 hijackers making moronic comments about the paradise that awaits them. The film is likely to offend just about everyone with its premise that includes “a gang of bosomy commandos [who] face off against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in an epic battle that will determine the fate of the world.” Since its opening cockpit sequence was first promoted on YouTube last May, it has been viewed more than two million times.

Starring Zack Ward of “Transformers” and Kids in the Hall comic Dave Foley, the self-described “outrageous political and social satire” also features Larry Thomas as bin Laden (he portrayed the Soup Nazi on “Seinfeld”) as well as Verne Troyer, the dwarf best known as “Mini-Me” in the Austin Powers series.
And the folks in Hollyweird wonder why no one goes to the movies anymore.

All Hail Oprah

Look on the bright side-this will give Bender a mainstream alternative a thouand years from now.
Oprah Winfrey may have gone too far in exploiting and distributing the teachings of a questionable New Age writer.

On Monday night, Winfrey conducted her weekly Web "event" seminar with New Age writer Eckhart Tolle. His message: "Life is the dancer and you are the dance."

Got that?

The seminar was No. 7 in a series of 10. On the first 90-minute Webcast with Tolle, Oprah extolled the author’s virtues, calling his best-selling "New Earth" book "one of the most important books of our time," the seminars one of "the most exciting things I’ve ever done."

Imagine that Winfrey considers her conversations with Tolle, a man with a shady and un-checkable background, more important than her schools in Africa and Mississippi for underprivileged children, more important than her Angel Charity network or her zillion-dollar syndicated TV show. Tolle must be something else!

But it’s not like Winfrey is endorsing Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison, serious, educated artists with portfolios. Tolle is more like Kilgore Trout, Kurt Vonnegut’s science-fiction crackpot alter-ego.

And what’s different about the Tolle connection for Winfrey is that for the first time in her much-applauded Book Club’s history, she’s gone into business with the author. And the author is not one of a novel, memoir or cookbook; he’s the mysterious creator of a philosophy that Winfrey endorses and suggests her readers live their lives by.
I'd be more worried about that Star Trek religion than Oprah-ism. I mean, those people were nuts.

Quest For Getting Fired

Heh. Maybe this could explain some of their coverage:
Richard Quest, a reporter for CNN International, was to be arraigned Friday on drug possession charges after police said he was found in New York City's Central Park with methamphetamine, the New York Times reports.

Quest was arrested Friday after violating park curfew, police told the paper. He reportedly told the police 'I have meth in my pocket' as he was escorted out of the park at around 3:40 a.m.

Police reportedly recovered a small amount of methamphetamine in a plastic bag, the Times said.

Quest, who is British, hosts 'CNN Business Traveler' for the network. CNN had no comment, the Times reported.
Frankly, I thought CNN's viewers were the ones more likely to be on drugs.

Our Politically Correct Cousins

So this is what happens when you let a country get taken over by lawyers:
Concerns still swirl around Bill 107 and what impact the new role the legislation ascribed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will have when it begins directly receiving applications next year.

Ontario’s new direct-access system for human rights complaints will ‘open the floodgates’ to grievances, says David Elenbaas.For example, with the Ontario Human Rights Commission no longer involved in screening complaints as of June 30, 2008, the new direct access system “will open the floodgates” for people to file grievances, predicts David Elenbaas, chief professional partner, and head of the employment and labour relations practice group at McMillan Binch Mendelsohn LLP.

“There doesn’t seem to be any ability to weed out complaints that are frivolous or vexatious, as there was under the old legislation,” he says, adding individuals will have more time — a year, as opposed to six months — to file.

Elenbaas expects there will be more hearings, since the tribunal won’t be able to dismiss complaints, until both parties in a dispute make oral submissions.

Not all applications will result in formal adjudication proceedings, since the tribunal gives the option to settle through mediation, says Michael Gottheil, the tribunal chair and a former Ottawa labour, employment, and human rights lawyer.
No, they'll just clog up the Canadian legal system to the point where it makes ours look streamlined by comparison. Welcome to th wonderful world of social engineering by whining.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Yard Sale Police

Apparently even yard sales are now politically incorrect:
In what way can outdated children's coats pose risks? Health writer Kim Painter never quite gets around to telling us. Presumably she is not referring to the risk of taunts from peers who are scornful of your child's out-of-style hand-me-down clothes. Possibly she is thinking that an older coat might have a drawstring around the hood, which 'can cause strangulation.' Or maybe she means that the buttons could be attached with thread that the Consumer Product Safety Commission later deemed inadequately thick; after all, such buttons, if swallowed and lodged in a child's windpipe, can cause suffocation.

Painter also wants parents to be 'extremely cautious' about 'used cribs or other nursery gear,' since 'anything over five years old may not meet safety standards.' The phrase 'death trap' appears. Yet Painter is not talking about a crib that's so rickety it could collapse at any moment or so worn that your baby could be impaled by shards of wood; presumably you would notice such hazards. She is talking about a crib that's just like the one in which you, or even your older children, slept for years without injury, but that has been retroactively declared unsafe by government regulators. For Painter, who is dismayed by the fact that most people fail to return recalled products even though the government says they should, exercising independent judgment in assessing and addressing a putative hazard is unthinkable.
My God, it's a wonder any of us survived our childhoods with all these dangerous items that people had been using for years. If we're going to demonize places that sell dangerous clothes, we should add thrift shops to the list (well, for reminding people of the bad taste they had in the seventies, at any rate). And flea markets, and pawn shops, and so forth. Remember, every time you buy something you put your kids' lives in your hands. Maybe we should just ban buying and selling?

Grass For Gas

We don't need no stinkin' crops:
can we grow crops for converting into fuel without catastrophically upsetting the world's food supply?

The answer is an unqualified 'Yes,' says David Tilman, ecology professor at the University of Minnesota and one of this morning's speakers. He deplored the polarization of the biofuels debate, pointing out that that biofuels were first touted as a savior a couple of years ago, with public opinion shading into doubt not long afterwards, and now in full-swing backlash mode, with people like the United Nations special rapporteur for the right to food, Jean Ziegler, calling biofuels 'a crime against humanity' because it takes food out of the mouths of the hungry according to today's Times.

What's needed instead, says Tillman, is a rational look at the big picture, backed by good science. Yes, he acknowledges, the demand for biofuels derived from traditional food crops like corn has contributed to a rise in global food prices, but so has increasing demand for food from burgeoning populations in China and India.

More to the point, though, is the mistaken notion that we have to use food crops for fuel production. In test fields in Minnesota, Tilman and his colleagues have found that the best energy yields actually come from native prairie grasses, not corn or soy. And, said Tilman, 'there's a surprising benefit from the mixture of species. Farmers know this from growing pastures. Nobody plants a pasture of a single species. They put out a variety of grasses, legumes...and so on. They do that because that gives them a higher yield.'
The great thing about biofuels is that they can come from plants we don't eat. So, yes, the veggies and hippies can keep their soy beans and the rest of us can grow grass for both gas and livestock. Everybody wins.

Creeps Of A Feather

Call it Debategate:
Amid a storm of criticism that Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate focused too heavily on “gotcha” questions and not enough on substance, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos defended his decision to ask Illinois Sen. Barack Obama about his relationship with former political radical William Ayers. Stephanopoulos denied he’d been spoon-fed the question by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“We have been researching this for a while,” Stephanopoulos said in a phone interview from New York. ABC News political correspondent Jake Tapper, he said, had blogged about the issue April 10, after it was first reported by Politico, the political news website. “Part of what we discovered is that Sen. Obama had never been asked directly about it, even though it’s being written about and talked about and Republicans are signaling that this is gonna be an issue in the general election.”

(A spokesman for Obama did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.)

On Tuesday, as a guest on Hannity’s radio program, Stephanopoulos said, “Well, I’m taking notes now, Sean” when Hannity suggested he raise the topic of Ayers with Obama.

In Wednesday’s prime-time debate, co-moderated with Charles Gibson, Stephanopoulos asked Obama: “…On this issue, general theme of patriotism, in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that…. An early organizing meeting for your state Senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are ‘friendly.' Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?”

(snip)

Progressives pounced. “The real story of this debate,” said MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, may be “where one of the moderators found his questions.”

Stephanopoulos dismissed the idea that he was doing Hannity’s bidding.

“The questions we asked were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant and what you would expect to be asked in a presidential debate at this point,” he said. “The questions we asked…are being debated around the political world every day.”
Well, it's not just progressives who should be upset. Actual conservatives should be asking Hannity some tough questions now. Who says the far right and the far left can't get along? They seemed to be doing well enough at the debate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Obama Burnout

Andrew Sullivan reacts to Obama's bad night:
I've seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react. This is big-time politics and he's up against the Clinton wood-chipper. But there is no disguising the fact that he wilted, painfully. Clinton has exposed herself in this campaign as one of the worst shells of a cynical pol in American politics. She doesn't just return us to the Morris-Rove era, she represents a new height for it. If she somehow wins, it will be a triumph of the old politics in an age when that is exactly what this country cannot afford. But Obama has also shown a failure to be resilient in this grueling process.
If there was a moment during this campaign when Obama showed that he still wasn't quite ready for prime time, this was it. If he gets the nomination he will be mincemeat for McCain. This was Clinton's (and her allies in the MSM) moment to pile it on, and they did, big time.

Take Your Gun To Work Day

For a guy who was accused of being one of them durn queers, this sounds fairly conservative to me:
TALLAHASSEE — Employers and business owners can no longer bar workers and shoppers from bringing guns onto their property and leaving the weapons locked inside their vehicles under a bill signed into law today by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The new law allows employees and visitors who have concealed weapons licenses to leave their weapons locked in or to vehicles. But concealed weapons license records are not available for public inspection so businesses would have no way of verifying if employees actually have the licenses.

The business community objected to the bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, saying property owners should be able to have control over whether people can bring guns to work.
I'm sure a way could be found so that businesses can verify whether smeone has a valid license. Nobody wants their workplace turned into a shooting gallery, but if the sane employees are allowed to carry that might be prevented.

The Payback

Hmm, is this really such a good idea?
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP)_ Students who pass Advanced Placement tests at Wilby High School in Waterbury will be getting hard cold cash rewards.

The students who pass their final AP tests next year will earn $100 for themselves for every test they pass.

The cash rewards are part of a new program to expand student participation in Wilby's Advanced Placement program.

It's funded by a $451,113, grant from the National Math and Science Initiative.
I'm not against rewarding students who actually do their homework. But shouldn't they be paying the teachers for the answers like other kids?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blowin' In The Wind

I'm guessing Ted Kennedy wouldn't complain about this:
Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives and low environmental effects.

No one tracks the number of small-scale residential wind turbines — windmills that run turbines to produce electricity — in the United States. Experts on renewable energy say a convergence of factors, political, technical and ecological, has caused a surge in the use of residential wind turbines, especially in the Northeast and California.

“Back in the early days, off-grid electrical generation was pursued mostly by hippies and rednecks, usually in isolated, rural areas,” said Joe Schwartz, editor of Home Power magazine. “Now, it’s a lot more mainstream.”

“The big shift happened in the last three years,” Mr. Schwartz said, because of technology that makes it possible to feed electricity back to the grid, the commercial power system fed by large utilities. “These new systems use the utility for back up power, removing the need for big, expensive battery backup systems.”
This is one area where green dreamers and business should be able to work together. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it's capitalism that gets the invention out on the streets.

The New Favorite

Hmm. Let's see how long this lasts:
McCain's moderators, the AP's Ron Fournier and Liz Sidoti, greeted McCain with a box of Dunkin' Donuts. 'We spend quite a bit of time with you on the back of the Straight Talk Express asking you questions, and what we've decided to do today was invite everyone else along on the ride,' Sidoti explained. 'We even brought you your favorite treat.'

McCain opened the offering. 'Oh, yes, with sprinkles!' he said.

Sidoti passed him a cup. 'A little coffee with a little cream and a little sugar,' she said.

The dueling appearances by McCain and Obama nicely captured the current dynamic in the presidential cycle. McCain, his nomination secure, had the luxury to joke and pander.

Obama, wounded by the Democrats' internecine fighting, was defensive and somber.
I guess this means McCain is safe from the media for the moment, unless Saturday Night Live starts making fun of him.

Le Politically Correct Prosecution

When in France, do not criticize.
PARIS (Reuters) - French former film star Brigitte Bardot went on trial on Tuesday for insulting Muslims, the fifth time she has faced the charge of 'inciting racial hatred' over her controversial remarks about Islam and its followers.

Prosecutors asked that the Paris court hand the 73-year-old former sex symbol a two-month suspended prison sentence and fine her 15,000 euros ($23,760) for saying the Muslim community was 'destroying our country and imposing its acts'.

Since retiring from the film industry in the 1970s, Bardot has become a prominent animal rights activist but she has also courted controversy by denouncing Muslim traditions and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.

She has been fined four times for inciting racial hatred since 1997, at first 1,500 euros and most recently 5,000.

Prosecutor Anne de Fontette told the court she was seeking a tougher sentence than usual, adding: 'I am a little tired of prosecuting Mrs Bardot.'

Bardot did not attend the trial because she said she was physically unable to. The verdict is expected in several weeks.
I'm with the prosecutor. I'm a little tired of seeing Ms. Bardot prosecuted for saying what she thinks, too.

You're Not It

And the death of childhood continues.
A playground pastime is getting a timeout this spring at a McLean elementary school.

Robyn Hooker, principal of Kent Gardens Elementary School, has told students they may no longer play tag during recess after determining that the game of chasing, dodging and yelling 'You're it!' had gotten out of hand. Hooker explained to parents in a letter this month that tag had become a game 'of intense aggression.'

The principal said that her goal is to keep students safe and that she hopes to restore tag (as well as touch football, also now on hold) after teachers and administrators review recess policies.

The decision has touched off a debate among parents. Some call the restriction an example of overzealous rulemaking that fails to address root problems and undermines children's development; others say it's best to err on the side of caution.

'We are regulating the fun out of normal childhood activity,' said Jan van Tol, father of a Kent Gardens sixth-grader. 'In our effort to be so overprotective, we are not letting children be children.'

Gerri Swarm, secretary of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, said she was glad the principal was taking seriously student concerns about being pushed or shoved. 'In this day and age, you can't dismiss this as something not to worry about,' she said.

Many schools nationwide have whittled down playground activities in response to concerns about injuries, bullying or litigation. Dodge ball is a thing of the past in many places, and contact sports are often limited at recess.
I'm all for keeping the little tykes safe on the playground. But the way things are going, there won't be any playgrounds left. And that's a shame.

Shakin' Street

Great. Along with the possibility of Earth being swallowed up by a black hole this summer, something else to worry about.
LOS ANGELES — California — the land of sun, beaches and earthquakes — faces an almost certain risk of being rocked by a strong temblor by 2037, scientists said Monday in the first statewide forecast of the seismic threat.

New calculations reveal there is a 99.7 percent chance a magnitude 6.7 quake or larger will hit the Golden State in the next 30 years.

The odds of such an event are higher in Southern California than Northern California, 97 percent versus 93 percent.

The last time a jolt this size rattled California was the 1994 Northridge disaster, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale, killed 72 people, injured more than 9,000 and caused $25 billion in damage.

'It basically guarantees it's going to happen,' said Ned Field, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena and lead author of the report.
Of course they've been saying this forever, but the time for the Big One could be coming closer. You have been warned.

Beghe Deal

A former member has escaped the cult.
Ruggedly handsome actor Jason Beghe was best man at the wedding of 'X Files' star David Duchovny (his childhood pal) and actress Tea Leoni. In 1998, he starred as Demi Moore’s love interest in “G.I. Jane.” He’s been featured in numerous TV dramas such as 'Criminal Minds,' 'Numb3rs', and 'CSI.'

In 2005, Beghe appeared in promotional spots for the Church of Scientology.

But now Beghe has escaped the Church after taking courses since 1994. He’s made a video that’s up on YouTube.

This is what he has to say:

“Scientology is destructive and a rip off.”

He also says: “It’s very, very dangerous for your spiritual, psychological, mental, emotional health and evolution. I think it stunts your evolution. If Scientology is real, then something’s f——ed up.”

You can see from the video that Beghe does not mince words. But his refreshing candor about the religion he joined in 1994 should shake the Celebrity Center to its core.

“It ain’t deliverin’ what it’s promised. It sure has not."
Tom Cruise will not be pleased. They may have to send Darth Chef after him.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Robopal

Finally, companions for lonely nerds:
Fictional robots always have a personality: Marvin was paranoid, C-3PO was fussy and HAL 9000 was murderous. But reality is disappointingly different. Sophisticated enough to assemble cars and assist during complex surgery, modern robots are dumb automatons, incapable of striking up relationships with their human operators.

But that could soon change. Engineers argue that, as robots begin to form a bigger part of society, the new machines will need a way to interact with humans. In short, they will need artificial personalities.

This week, engineers, psychologists and computer scientists from across Europe will begin a major project that aims to develop the first robot personalities.

'What we're looking at here is long-term interactions between people and robots in real situations,' said Peter McOwan of Queen Mary, University of London, coordinator of the £6.6m, EU-funded Lirec project. 'The big question is: what sort of properties does a synthetic companion need to have so that you feel you want to engage in a relationship with it over an extended period of time?'
Just so long as you don't develop Robot Fever...

Change In The Weather

Is Bush finally coming around?
President Bush is poised to change course and announce as early as this week that he wants Congress to pass a bill to combat global warming, and will lay out principles for what that should include.

Specifics of the policy are still being fiercely debated, but Bush administration officials have told Republicans in Congress that they feel pressure to act now because they fear a coming regulatory nightmare. It would be the first time Mr. Bush has called for statutory authority on the subject.

'This is an attempt to move the administration and the party closer to the center on global warming. With these steps, it is hoped that the debate over this is over, and it is time to do something,' said an administration source close to the White House who is familiar with the planning and who said to expect an announcement this week.
I guess the subject of climate change (which I happen to believe is happening-how much and how responsible humans are for it is what's up for debate) suddenly becoms a bit more relevant when you're looking at your party possibly losing the White House. We'll see if this amounts to anything.

Their Fare Share

Is it time for Iraq to start paying its bills?
WASHINGTON — Iraq's financial free ride may be over.

After five years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have found common ground on at least one aspect of the war. From the fiercest war foes to the most steadfast Bush supporters, they are looking at Iraq's surging oil income and saying Baghdad should start picking up the tab, particularly for rebuilding hospitals, roads, power lines and the rest of the shattered country.

'I think the American people are growing weary not only of the war, but they are looking at why Baghdad can't pay more of these costs. And the answer is they can,' says Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Nelson, a Democrat, is drafting legislation with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana that would restrict future reconstruction dollars to loans instead of grants.

Their bill also would require that Baghdad pay for the fuel used by American troops and take over U.S. payments to predominantly Sunni fighters in the Awakening movement. Plans are to propose the legislation as part of a war bill to cover spending through September.
Nobody likes a deadbeat-especially one that keeps expecting others to do its work for it.

Greed Is Not Good

I'm guessing he won't be invited to any corporate dinner parties soon.
Sen. John McCain this morning said 'greedy' Wall Street investors are partly to blame for what he said is probably an economic recession the nation is now suffering.

'There has to be a modification of the greedy behavior of some of these people,' he said, using the word 'greedy' repeatedly in remarks to the Associated Press annual meeting at the Washington Convention Center today.
For shame, Senator. Don't you know that as a Republican you're supposed to support corporate greed as "The engine of capitalism?" They'll take away your Republican Merit Badge for this.

Long Train Runnin'

Take that, disgruntled truckers and incompetent airlines:
John R. Stilgoe, Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Graduate School of Design, predicts that trains will once again play a key role in shaping American life. Based on an analysis of real estate investment patterns along railroad corridors, Stilgoe predicts that trains will make an important comeback, and not only for long distances but also back for freight, mail and express packages.

Stilgoe's arguments are based on the increase of estate prices along railroad lines. According to him, investors are purchasing everything from derelict buildings to gravel plots, which can be easily transformed into parking lots when the time is right, and he expects the time will be right when there are 150 million more Americans (i.e., 2050). By then, no more land will be available for roads, and available roads will be full (see also: Europe). Not to mention that if these new railways can get speeds above 90mph, the notions of urban and extra-urban settlement will be altered. According to Stilgoe, motorists will switch cars to railroads because the more gasoline costs, the cheaper traveling by train becomes (although you should see how expensive is in London, UK). So is the train going to make a comeback in the U. S.? In some areas they already have. One successful example is the Rail Runner service in Albuquerque, N. M.
It stands to reason that what was once the main mode of transportation a hundred years ago would make a comeback in our age of overcrowded freeways and broken-down airlines. Long live the Iron Horse!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Chinese Connection

Somehow I'm not too surprised by this.
NEW YORK -- As Chinese authorities have clamped down on unrest in Tibet and jailed dissidents in advance of the 2008 Olympics, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken a strong public stance, calling for restraint in Tibet and urging President Bush to boycott the Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing.

But her recent stern comments on China's internal crackdown collide with former President Bill Clinton's fundraising relationship with a Chinese Internet company accused of collaborating with the mainland government's censorship of the Web. Last month, the firm, Alibaba Inc., carried a government-issued "most wanted" posting on its Yahoo China homepage, urging viewers to provide information on Tibetan activists suspected of stirring recent riots.

Alibaba, which took over Yahoo's China operation in 2005 as part of a billion-dollar deal with the U.S.-based search engine, arranged for the former president to speak to a conference of Internet executives in Hangzhou in September 2005. Instead of taking his standard speaking fees, which have ranged from $100,000 to $400,000, Clinton accepted an unspecified private donation from Alibaba to his international charity, the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The former president's charity has raised more than $500 million over the last decade and has been lauded for its roles in disaster response, AIDS prevention and Third World medical and poverty relief. But his reliance on influential foreign donors and his foundation's refusal to release its list of donors have led to repeated questions about the sources and transparency of his fundraising -- even as Hillary Clinton has talked on the campaign trail about relying on him as a roving international ambassador if she is elected president.

Foreign contributions to American-based charities are allowed under U.S. law, but political and philanthropy ethics advocates worry that Bill Clinton's reliance on international businesses and foreign governments to finance his worldwide charity campaigns raise issues of potential conflicts of interest if he were to take an active role in his wife's administration.
Bill loves to schmooze with foreign leaders as a way to prove he's still relevant. Unfortunately, so is his sleaze.

Lonely Phony

It must be the year for fake writers.
THE Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.

Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a new book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the company's policy.

His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year.

Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?, said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile and South America.

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

'They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia,'' he said.

'I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

'They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.'
This guy's in the wrong profession. He should be working for the New York Times, or at least for Reuters.