Archive | January, 2010

Report: No sanctions for Lawyers who OK’d Torture

Is anyone surprised at this report?  Is anyone not disgusted?

From Yahoo News:

Bush administration lawyers who drafted legal theories that led to waterboarding and other harsh treatment of terrorism suspects showed poor judgment but won’t face sanctions for professional misconduct, according to a published report.A forthcoming government ethics report initially concluded the two key authors of the so-called torture memos, Jay Bybee and John Yoo, who were officials in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, had violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted the memos that allowed the use of harsh interrogation tactics.

But a senior Justice Department official, David Margolis, later softened the department’s finding to say the authors simply showed poor judgment, Newsweek reported.

[Read more at Yahoo News]… Read the rest

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According to DNA, You’re Half-Human, Half-Virus

Frank Ryan writes in New Scientist:

When, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome.

This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome.

All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere “junk DNA”, but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know…

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Meet the People of Vermont Who Want to Secede from the Union

Welcome To VermontChristopher Ketcham writes on Time.com:

The President on Wednesday may have reassured Americans that the state of the Union is “strong,” but, just the week before, a group of Vermont secessionists declared their intention to seek political power in a quest to get their state to quit the Union altogether.

On Jan. 15, in the state capital of Montpelier, nine candidates for statewide office gathered in a tiny room at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, to announce they wanted a divorce from the United States of America. “For the first time in over 150 years, secession and political independence from the U.S. will be front and center in a statewide New England political campaign,” said Thomas Naylor, 73, one of the leaders of the campaign.

A former Duke University economics professor, Naylor heads up the Second Vermont Republic, which he describes as “left-libertarian, anti-big government, anti-empire, antiwar, with small is beautiful as our guiding philosophy.” The group not only advocates the peaceful secession of Vermont but has minted its own silver “token” — valued at $25 — and, as part of a publishing venture with another secessionist group, runs a monthly newspaper called Vermont Commons, with a circulation of 10,000.

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Illegal Warrantless Eavesdropping Still Unaddressed by Courts and Congress

David Kravets writes on Wired’s Threat Level:
NSATelecomSpying

Heads spun four years ago this weekend, when AT&T was accused of funneling every one of its customers’ electronic communications to the National Security Agency — without warrants. A Jan. 31, 2006, lawsuit alleged major violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. Such a sweeping breach seemed far-fetched.

Yet months after the lawsuit was lodged, the Electronic Frontier Foundation produced internal AT&T documents allegedly outlining secret rooms in AT&T offices connected to the NSA, which was siphoning all internet traffic, from e-mails to Voice Over Internet Protocol phone conversations.

But four years and a mountain of court briefs and rulings later, the legal system has never addressed the merits of the allegations — and likely never will. Even Congress has weighed in and passed legislation to prevent the allegations from being heard.

Read More: Wired’s Threat LevelRead the rest

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How to Fall 35,000 Feet — And Survive

Parachute On FireDan Koeppel writes in Popular Mechanics:

You’re six miles up, alone and falling without a parachute. Though the odds are long, a small number of people have found themselves in similar situations — and lived to tell the tale.

6:59:00 AM, 35,000 Feet: You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.) Although gravity is against you, another force is working in your favor: time. Believe it or not, you’re better off up here than if you’d slipped from the balcony of your high-rise hotel room after one too many drinks last night.

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The Roman Army Knife Predates the Swiss Army One by 1,800 Years

Via the Daily Mail:

The world’s first Swiss Army knife’ has been revealed — made 1,800 years before its modern counterpart. An intricately designed Roman implement, which dates back to 200 AD, it is made from silver but has an iron blade. It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick.

Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails. The Roman army pen knife It is thought the spatula would have offered a means of poking cooking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles.

The 3 in x 6 in (8 cm x 15 cm) knife was excavated from the Mediterranean area more than 20 years ago and was obtained by the museum in 1991. The unique item is among dozens of artefacts exhibited in a newly refurbished Greek and Roman antiquities gallery at the Fitzwilliam Museum, in Cambridge.… Read the rest

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NASA Worried About Solar Threat To Earth?

solar_flareOne of the alarmist predictions for 2012 concerns the supposed cyclical climax of solar flare activity (see the Larry Joseph section in the disinformation documentary 2012: Science or Superstition). Although NASA felt moved to create a web page to deny this kind of story around the release date of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 disaster movie, apparently they are hedging their bets. Chris Hastings and Jonathan Leake report on a new NASA probe that could help scientists predict chaos-causing solar storms, in the Times:

NASA is to embark on one of its most ambitious missions in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the sun.

Following its launch in nine days’ time, the US space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will spend five years in orbit trying to discover the causes of extreme solar activity, such as sun spots and solar winds and flares.

Scientists have long been aware that disturbances on the sun can trigger dangerous x-rays, charged particles and magnetic fields that can disrupt power supplies, communication signals and aircraft navigation systems on Earth.

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The Walmart of Weed

CaliforniaMarijuanaMatthai Kuruvila writing for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Call it the Walmart of weed.

In a 15,000-square-foot warehouse just down the road from the Oakland Airport, an entrepreneur is opening a one-stop shop for medicinal marijuana cultivation that’s believed to be the largest in the state.

Don’t know the first thing about growing pot? The folks at iGrow have a doctor on site to get you a cannabis card and sell you all the necessary equipment for indoor, hydroponic cultivation – from pumps, nutrients and tubing to lights and fans.

Don’t know how to set it up? For a fee, on-site technicians will show you how to build it in your home and even maintain it weekly.

“A lot of people don’t know much about growing pot,” said Dhar Mann, 25, the owner, who stood in front of an array of Ikea-like displays, showing different rooms of cannabis cultivation systems.

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Coast to Coast’s Art Bell In Conversation With Michio Kaku

Art Bell was joined for the entire program by one of his favorite guests, theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, for a discussion on a variety of science-related topics.

Kaku provided an update on the problem-plagued Large Hadron Collider (LHC), while quashing a theory that suggested the giant particle accelerator was being sabotaged from the future…

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Bachmann Cancels Tea Party Appearance

From The Star Tribune:

Rep. Michele Bachmann has become the latest high-profile conservative to bag the rapidly unraveling Tea Party Convention in Nashville next week.

The Minnesota Republican, who has become something of a heroine of the Tea Party movement, decided Thursday morning that she is cancelling her appearance at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel next Friday, where she was scheduled to be a breakfast speaker.

Bachmann’s office cited the same concerns that other Tea Party activists have voiced about the first-of-its-kind national gathering: namely, the for-profit model of organizer Judson Phillips, a self-described “small town lawyer” with a history of financial problems.

Phillips has announced that the $549-a-head convention featuring Sarah Palin is sold out. But Tea Party critics and allies alike have been asking questions about what Phillips plans to do with the money. Concrete answers have been in short supply, and in the end it looked like too big a risk for any public office holder.

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