Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ONCE AGAIN, the Palestinians sabotaging peace on the eve of talks:
Four Israelis were killed on Tuesday night when gunmen opened fire on their car at the entrance to Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, in the West Bank.

The attack occurred around 7:30 P.M. on Route 60, when shots were fired at a private vehicle near the Bnei Naim junction, south of Kiryat Arba. Preliminary reports showed the gunmen approached the vehicle and shot the victims multiple times at point-blank range.
Let me anticipate how much of the press -- the Spanish press, at least -- will spin this. They'll imply that this attack threatens the peace talks. It will be only if the Israelis retaliate that the peace attempt will be demolished for good. Wanna bet?

I'LL TOAST TO THAT! a study (pdf) shows that it's not just moderate drinkers: it's also heavy drinkers who outlive teetotalers:
But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It's true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors — job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don't get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.

[...] Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than people who have never drunk. One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health.

SO GLAD to see he's laser-focused on the really important matters:
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Monday wowed Chinese visitors at the World Expo by bringing something no other global leader has -- the FIFA World Cup.

The trophy became the latest treasure put on show in Shanghai, lining up alongside Denmark's Little Mermaid, French impressionist paintings and a Rodin sculpture, as well as a work by Italian Renaissance master Caravaggio.

"We are very delighted to bring the FIFA World Cup to China. It is something that our country is very proud of," Zapatero said, standing in front of the trophy at the entrance to Spain's wicker-covered pavilion.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

WHEN AZNAR suggested to his party convention the name of his successor, who was overwhelmingly backed by the delegates, the Socialist party (now-PM Zapatero included) described what happened by coining the "dedocracia" ["fingerocracy"]. By that rule of thumb, how should we label the attempt by Zapatero of directly imposing a candidate for Madrid's regional elections over the democratically elected candidate of the Socialist Party local branch? Just askin'.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THIS IS what ancient Greek sculptures looked like before its colors faded away.

NEO-NAZIS NIGHTMARE -- Hitler had Jewish and African roots:
Adolf Hitler may have had Jewish and African roots, DNA tests have shown

Saliva samples taken from 39 relatives of the Nazi leader show he may have had biological links to the “subhuman” races that he tried to exterminate during the Holocaust.

Jean-Paul Mulders, a Belgian journalist, and Marc Vermeeren, a historian, tracked down the Fuhrer’s relatives, including an Austrian farmer who was his cousin, earlier this year.

A chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1 which showed up in their samples is rare in Western Europe and is most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

"One can from this postulate that Hitler was related to people whom he despised," Mr Mulders wrote in the Belgian magazine, Knack.
It's not the first study that claims this, but the irony is so delicious that I can't pass from pointing it out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'M IN pretty much in boogging hiatus, but can't pass on recommending this piece at the Financial Times on the Spanish economy's "flagging recovery"; you need a subscription, but if you search for the title, "Spain: A flagging recovery" in Google and click the result there, you can read it for free (same works with any FT or WSJ piece, for that matter).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

AN EYE FOR AN EYE, a tooth for a tooth... a spine for a spine?
Amnesty International on Friday urged Saudi Arabian authorities not to paralyze a man as punishment for his having paralyzed someone else, allegedly during a fight.

The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that the judge in the case had sent letters to several hospitals in Saudi Arabia asking if they could sever a man's spinal cord, as the man he allegedly stabbed had requested and, under sharia law, was his right to seek.

[IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW] WIKILEAKS' Julian Assange the subject of a search warrant by Sweden's justice? He is wanted for two different reasons, one of them rape, and the other is not specified at this point. Unsurprisingly, Wikileaks issued a denial of the accusations, not the warrant, on its Twitter page.

It was first reported by Swedish tabloid Expressen, which is not exactly the most reliable source (then again, neither is the National Enquirer, eh, John Edwards?) and it comes on the heels of the announcement that Wikileaks was going to release another batch of Afghanistan leaks. Which makes it easy for Assange to say it's dirty tricks, which he's indeed saying. On the other hand, it's not something that allegedly took place some time ago and just surfaced now, which would look much odder; it's something that apparently happened last weekend. One would think that if the shady powers going after him were really trying to frame him they'd find a less obvious way to do it (what's left of "make it look like an accident"?). Or maybe they're so evil that they make the framing look obvious so that people things "no way, it's too obvious!". Or maybe -- sorry, head spinning.

What an odd development. Stay tuned.

UPDATE. Let me clarify something: what I meant is that if you want to frame someone, you make an old rape accusation 20 years ago in Mexico magically surface. But something that happened a few days ago, with possible DNA remains and in Sweden? I'm not saying it can't be, but it doesn't seem that likely, no?

UPDATE II. More at Hot Air.

UPDATE III. Just in @ BBC: "Swedish authorities have cancelled an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on accusations of rape and molestation.The Swedish Prosecution Authority website said the chief prosecutor had come to the decision that Mr Assange was not suspected of rape."

UPDATE IV. NBC says the molestation charges remain, though:
"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.

But Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, told NBC News that the allegation of molestation remains. However, Rosander said that after a new prosecutor looked at the allegations, the arrest warrant was withdrawn because the severity of the case does not require an arrest at this stage.
More at Sweden's TheLocal.

JOHNNY ROTTEN doesn't mince words: "I really resent the presumption that I'm going [to Israel] to play to right-wing Nazi jews," he tells me. "If Elvis-fucking-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he's suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won't understand how anyone can have a problem with how they're treated."

STAR WARS as a silent movie.

THERE WE GO: "Iran began fueling its first nuclear energy plant in the southern city of Bushehr on Saturday, the nation's state media reported."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

There's a new argument emerging among supporters of the Ground Zero mosque. Distressed by President Obama's waffling on the issue, they're calling on former President George W. Bush to announce his support for the project, because in this case Bush understands better than Obama the connection between the war on terror and the larger question of America's relationship with Islam. It's an extraordinary change of position for commentators who long argued that Bush had done grievous harm to America's image in the Muslim world and that Obama represented a fresh start for the United States. Nevertheless, they are now seeing a different side of the former president.

ANOTHER MYTH CRUMBLES, and well crumbled it is:
In Nazi propaganda, he was a gallant First World War corporal who frequently risked his life.

Now the myth of Adolf Hitler's heroism in the trenches has been debunked by research revealing he was little more than a 'teaboy' messenger dubbed a 'rear-area pig' by frontline soldiers.

No individual has been more scrutinized than Hitler, but detective work by Dr Thomas Weber, lecturer in modern history at Aberdeen University, unearthed new evidence.

Previously unpublished letters from veterans of Hitler's regiment have challenged the Nazi portrayal which suggested his virulent nationalism was prompted by his experience on the Western Front.

They overturn his image of his unit, the List Regiment, as a band of brothers, intolerant and anti-Jewish with Hitler 'a hero at its heart'.
They confront long-held views on Hitler’s brave war record, revealing that front soldiers shunned him as a “rear area pig” several kilometres from danger.

The letters and a diary also disclose that List men regarded him as an impractical object of ridicule, joking about his starving in a canned food factory, unable to open a can with a bayonet.

He was viewed by his comrades in regimental HQ as a loner. He was neither popular nor unpopular.
They referred to him as the 'painter' or the 'artist' and noticed that he did not indulge in their favourite pastimes – letter-writing or drinking – but was often seen with a political book in his hand or painting. He was also particularly submissive to his superiors.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Monday, August 16, 2010

CONVERSATIONS between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (click to enlarge)

(via email)

WHAT MADE HUMANS different to other primates? Very simple. We started eating meat:
Our earliest ancestors ate their food raw — fruit, leaves, maybe some nuts. When they ventured down onto land, they added things like underground tubers, roots and berries.

It wasn't a very high-calorie diet, so to get the energy you needed, you had to eat a lot and have a big gut to digest it all. But having a big gut has its drawbacks.

"You can't have a large brain and big guts at the same time," explains Leslie Aiello, an anthropologist and director of the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York City, which funds research on evolution. Digestion, she says, was the energy-hog of our primate ancestor's body. The brain was the poor stepsister who got the leftovers.

Until, that is, we discovered meat.

"What we think is that this dietary change around 2.3 million years ago was one of the major significant factors in the evolution of our own species," Aiello says.

[...] As we got more, our guts shrank because we didn't need a giant vegetable processor any more. Our bodies could spend more energy on other things like building a bigger brain. Sorry, vegetarians, but eating meat apparently made our ancestors smarter — smart enough to make better tools, which in turn led to other changes, says Aiello.
And then we started cooking, not just the meat but also the veggies:
[E]ven after we started eating meat, raw food just didn't pack the energy to build the big-brained, small-toothed modern human. He cites research that showed that people on a raw food diet, including meat and oil, lost a lot of weight. Many said they felt better, but also experienced chronic energy deficiency. And half the women in the experiment stopped menstruating.

It's not as if raw food isn't nutritious; it's just harder for the body to get at the nutrition.
Read it all, especially if you are one of those vegans who not only don't eat anything coming from animals (including dairy products), but they angrily object at anyone eating it in their presence. Over the years, I've found myself in meals with those intolerants. I generally, for courtesy, avoid eating meat, but for some the mere joking ("don't worry, I won't ask for a T-bone") is enough. One, the founder of a quite popular internet startup (now based in the US) wrote me an email first thing after he went back to his hotel after our lunch meeting. There it was, sitting in my inbox when I arrived to my office, berating me for not respecting his sensibilities when I mentioned in a lighthearted way that I wasn't going to eat meat. "What would you say if some aliens came to Earth and saw us inferior animals with a much lower intelligence than themselves, like we see animals, and ate us?" To which I replied, "And what would you think if another much more intelligent group of aliens came to Earth and saw us much much lower intelligence than themselves, like we see plants, and ate us. Would that mean it's also wrong to eat plants? Is it wrong to eat anything?"

The back and forth continued a bit, and it was disconcerting, to put it mildly, to see so much fanaticism over, well, science.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SHOULD YOU LAUGH about superstitions? Maybe not... "A 13-year-old boy was struck by lightning — at 13:13 hours on Friday the 13th, according to reports."

WHAT AN INTERESTING Time cover: if you click to enlarge, you'll notice that it's from the April 16, 1979 issue. That's funny: I thought that Jihadism was a logical reaction to Bush policies...

AFGHANISTAN has apparently discovered a massive oilfield that multiplies by ten its current proven reserves.

But before the nowarforoilers scream "Aha!", it's a good idea to put the numbers in perspective. We're talking about 1.8 billion barrels which are allegedly found. And, as the article says, "By comparison, Saudi Arabia had proven reserves of 264.6 billion barrels at the end of 2009, according to BP Plc data." If one would try control the flux of such a vital product, it's be Riyahd, not Kabul, where they'd be looking into.

WHY IS MOROCCO picking a fight with Spain precisely now, Time magazine ponders:
It was the images of empty food markets on the news, and reporters' overblown warnings of possible shortages, that told Spaniards on Thursday that their nation's five-century dispute with Morocco over the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, two enclaves on the Mediterranean coast, had reignited. In the worst diplomatic spat between the two countries in almost a decade, Moroccan activists were blocking food imports into one of the enclaves and promising more action to come.

The Spanish government and the press were appalled, not so much at the protest, but that it had taken place after King Juan Carlos himself had stepped in to try to calm tensions that had been boiling over for days. For many in Spain, the snub was yet another in a series of signs that the nation doesn't demand the respect it once did — and that its status as a global player is crumbling.

[...] This time, though, Morocco is putting up a fight. The timing of the food blockade illustrates Rabat's intention to take advantage of a weakened Spain, analysts say. "Vultures swarm when they see weakness, and that is what's happening to Spain," says Vicente Palacios, sub-director of the Spanish Foreign Policy Observatory, a research center of a left-leaning think tank close to the government. Spain's relations with Morocco will likely return to normal soon — but its fading diplomatic luster is a problem that's sure to linger.

DOES ANYONE KNOW if the author of Huffington Post's Style section is a starry-eyed teenager, impressed by just about anyone who doesn't wear sandals and shorts? Because that would explain this ridiculously fawning item, with pictures and all:
There must be something in the agua in Spain to make all of their politicians so stylish. We know you love Princess Letizia, we recently introduced you to Prince Felipe, and now we'd like you to meet Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, wife of stylista Sonsoles Espinosa. Zapatero keeps it cool, sticking to a darker, often monochromatic, color palette (much like his wife and his daughters) offset by geometric-print ties. Check out some of Zapatero's best looks and tell us which ones are especially fantastic.
Fawning and wrong. I haven't seen anyone wearing suits with worse cuts for quite a long time. It's as if he's wearing them with the hanger still on.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

AN OPEN LETTER from Reporters Without Borders to Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange:
But revealing the identity of hundreds of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan is highly dangerous. It would not be hard for the Taliban and other armed groups to use these documents to draw up a list of people for targeting in deadly revenge attacks.

Defending yourself, you said that it was about “ending the war in Afghanistan.” You also argued that: “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” However, the US government has been under significant pressure for some time as regards the advisability of its military presence in Afghanistan, not just since your article’s publication. We are not convinced that your wish to“end the war in Afghanistan” will be so easily granted and meanwhile, you have unintentionally provided supposedly democratic governments with good grounds for putting the Internet under closer surveillance.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SOMETHING TO CHEER YOU UP for the weekend: in 10 years, antibiotics will be virtually ineffective.

THOSE PEACEFUL flotilla organizers:
German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons. The evidence puts increasing pressure on the Turkish government, which has long been suspected of using such weapons against Kurdish rebels. German politicians are demanding an investigation.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero may face a second front in his battle to contain Spain’s fiscal crisis as borrowing costs for the country’s regional governments climb.

Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of Spanish gross domestic product, has been shut out of public bond markets since March and the extra yield it pays over national government debt has almost tripled this year. Galicia, in the northwest, has asked to freeze payments of debt it owes the central government and the Madrid region postponed a bond sale last month.

THE LATEST manufactured crisis between Morocco and Spain:
Spanish King Juan Carlos spoke on the telephone Wednesday with his Moroccan counterpart King Mohammed the VI to try to help smooth over a diplomatic row between the two countries concerning Spain's exclave Melilla.

The Spanish royal house said Juan Carlos, calling from his vacation home on Mallorca, made the call to try to clear up what were called 'misunderstandings' in recent days.

The move came after the government in Rabat had issued four communiques over the past few days accusing Spanish border police in Melilla of racism and of attacking Moroccans and African refugees.
What's the accusation for, you may ask. According to law enforcement officials, it's because of the presence of female police officers controlling the borders. You read it right: the big offense, the provocation, is that sometimes it's a woman asking to see the passport. I know, intolerable. I get shivers just thinking about it. Understandably that makes the 'mistreated' person to often become abusive and even to physically attack them. And hitting ensues as cops try to restrain the offended, hence the pictures with blood that you may have seen.

WELL, the appearance of some sanity didn't last long: Zapatero is considering a reversal of the planned spending cuts. Yes, those spending cuts that averted financial chaos when everyone was running away as fast as they could from Spain's debt fearing it wouldn't be able to return it after all the overspending and deficit.

According to two research scientists the mystery of vanished ships and airplanes in the region dubbed "The Bermuda Triangle" has been solved.

Step aside outer space aliens, time anomalies, submerged giant Atlantean pyramids and bizarre meteorological phenomena ... the "Triangle" simply suffers from an acute case of gas.

Natural gas—the kind that heats ovens and boils water—specifically methane, is the culprit behind the mysterious disappearances and loss of water and air craft.

[...] Because of the correlations and existing data, the two envisioned what would happen when gigantic methane bubbles explode from natural fissures on the seafloor.

The methane—normally frozen at great pressure as gas hydrates embedded within subterranean rock—can become dislodged and transform into gaseous bubbles expanding geometrically as they explode upwards. When these bubbles reach the surface of the water they soar into the air, still expanding upwards and outwards.

Any ships caught within the methane mega-bubble immediately lose all buoyancy and sink to the bottom of the ocean. If the bubbles are big enough and possess a high enough density they can also knock aircraft out of the sky with little or no warning. Aircraft falling victim to these methane bubbles will lose their engines-perhaps igniting the methane surrounding them-and immediately lose their lift as well, ending their flights by diving into the ocean and swiftly plummeting.

AN INTERESTING DOCUMENTARY on BBC Radio on the useful idiots who cheered for the Soviet regime.

THE VOICE OF CUBAN DISSIDENTS: this blog compiles and translates blog posts from prominent bloggers who are defying the Castroite regime. Worth following.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

THIS IS what happens when you put a date to an Iraq withdrawal:
Al-Qaida is attempting to make a comeback in Iraq by enticing scores of former Sunni allies to rejoin the terrorist group by paying them more than the monthly salary they currently receive from the government, two key US-backed militia leaders have told the Guardian.

They said al-Qaida leaders were exploiting the imminent departure of US fighting troops to ramp up a membership drive, in an attempt to show that they are still a powerful force in the country after seven years of war.

OH, MY, how times have changed: some pictures of Iran in the 70s.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THE APEX of extreme body modification: tatoos, piercings, and so forth. Speechless.

GOV'T-PUSHED EVs fail spectacularly in Spain:
It was supposed to be the centrepiece of Spain's green agenda: within four years a million electric cars would take to the roads, with battery top-up points sprouting up in petrol stations and disused telephone booths across the country.

"Electric vehicles are on their way," said prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as he unveiled the plans in April. "Let us get ahead and get them here sooner."

But figures released today showed that Zapatero's green dream is some way from realisation: in the first seven months of the year, only 16 electric cars were registered for use on Spanish roads. Even that was a sixteenfold increase on 2009, when just one electric car was registered.

Although the plan also includes subsidies for hybrid electric and petrol-driven cars, makers said they only planned to sell half a dozen of these in Spain this year, according to the ABC newspaper.

That makes the stated goal of having 2,000 electric vehicles circulating by the end of this year almost unachievable. Next year's target had been to get 20,000 electric and hybrid cars on the road.

The failed attempt to kickstart Spain's electric car market comes despite pledges of 80m euros of subsidies for those who buy by the end of next year – with the government funding 20% of the purchase, or up to 6,000 euros, on each car.
Zapatero seems to be some kind of reverse Midas. Everything he touches becomes worthless.

I CAN'T BELIEVE the headline editor let this slip through (via Taranto): "Police find hard object in man's underpants when speeding Mercedes pulled over" It was a gun. Would it have been so difficult to simply write "Police find gun in man's underpants when speeding Mercedes pulled over"?

The European Commission wants EU member states to consider allowing it to levy direct taxes - a move that could ease the burden on national budgets.
And increase it on people's pockets, of course.

Monday, August 09, 2010

ADVANCES in two new paths to the dream of organ regeneration. That's promising. In a few years, our children, or maybe even ourselves, will regard cutting someone open to extract a damaged organ, leaving the body without it, or needing to put another from someone else, something as barbaric as surgery before anesthesia was invented.

Friday, August 06, 2010

AFGHANISTAN, the graveyard of all empires that tried to conquer it? Poppycock.

In the 1500s, a pestering theologian instituted something called the Marriage Ordinance in Geneva, which made "state registration and church consecration" a dual requirement of matrimony.

We have yet to get over this mistake. But isn't it about time we freed marriage from the state?
Imagine if government had no interest in the definition of marriage. Individuals could commit to each other, head to the local priest or rabbi or shaman — or no one at all — and enter into contractual agreements, call their blissful union whatever they felt it should be called and go about the business of their lives.

I certainly don't believe that gay marriage will trigger societal instability or undermine traditional marriage — we already have that covered — but mostly I believe your private relationships are none of my business.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

MAN, this is getting tedious: another misinformed, distorted piece about judge Garzón (this time at NPR), another time that I need to explain some basics.

VERY cool pictures of Spain.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

AN AFGHAN TRIBAL LEADER has been assassinated by the Taliban after his name appeared in the Wikileaks documents as NATO informant; other 70 have been explicitely threatened.

Julian Assange must be so proud.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

You shell out $30,000 each to have dinner with President Obama. Then you find out that his definition of “dinner with President Obama” means you eat in one room, but he eats alone in a different room of the same hotel.

Monday, August 02, 2010

TWO EXTRAORDINARY SETS of color pictures from the Library of Congress collections, showing life in America in the 30s and in Russia at the end of the czarist regime, right before the Recolution. Don't miss them.