Monday, October 31, 2005

(BUM BUM) Tainted Blood

I promised someone that I'd lay off Arkansas bashing, but state officals are making it very hard. Paying prisoners to donate blood is weirdly noble, but not preventing those with hepatatis and HIV from donating mutes the sentiment somewhat.

Granted, the government is not doing this anymore (probably), but you can pretty well be certain they're doing some else just as mindbogglingly inhuman. Maybe I'm too worked up over this. I mean, it's not like it gave that many Americans HIV and the Hep - most of the blood was exported to other countries.

Sorry, Britain.
For the first time in the 124 year history of the Red Cross, the charity has been forced to borrow money in order to pay for relief efforts. The organization is currently $700 million dollars short of the $2 billion they estimate is necessary to deal properly with the disasters. Wilma and the Greek letters will probably drive that cost even higher.

To be fair, the Red Cross is as grossly inefficent as any enormous bureaucracy, but donations still do more good that not-donations.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Corrupt leaders of the free world

This week:

Kofi Annan, head of the United Nations, implicated in the Iraq Oil-for-Food bribery scandal.

Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, former head of the EU, accused of tax fraud and money laundering.

I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff of the Vice President of the United States, indicted on 5 counts relating to the investigation of the leak of a CIA operatives identity.

Tom DeLay, recently resigned Speaker of the House of Representatives, underreporting money donated to his money laundering legal defense fund.

There was something in the air that night, RFID blight, your info*

Starting in October of next year, U.S. passports will contain an RFID chip that encodes all of the passport information and a digital photograph. An RFID (radio frequency identification) chip broadcasts information in response to a radio signal. Anyone with the appropriate equipment can instantly harvest all the data from a passport, such as name, address, social security number, etc.

Apart from the glaringly obvious, there are many other problems associated with the new passport requirements outlined in a public letter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Office of Passport Policy (pdf). At a time when multiple government agencies are illegally and clandestinely spying on US citizens, the idea of the government being more easily able to track people is a chilling one.

*With apologies to ABBA

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Here we go again

Israel is conducting massive retaliation against Palestinian militants, including "targeted killings" (sic) and air strikes, in response to a suicide bombing in Hadera on Wednesday.

Of course, Islamic Jihad, who take credit for yesterday's carnage, say the bombing was a response to the killing of one of their leaders in the West Bank on Monday. They now have a new excuse to slaughter more shoppers in a market somewhere; one of their commanders was killed in an airstrike earlier today.

The fun just never stops.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Still alarming: Iran

Reuters reports on a recent speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
“Israel must be wiped off the map,” Ahmadinejad told a conference called “The World without Zionism”, attended by some 3,000 conservative students who chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.
This is nothing new, but somehow it gets us every time. “Death to America” is to Iran something like “Super-size it” is to America—an all-purpose phrase, equally effective as a salutation, expression of comradery, answering machine message, or political ideology, which miraculously retains its meaning and freshness despite constant repetition.

Monday, October 24, 2005

FBI conducting illegal surveillance

As revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI has been clandestinely spying on United States citizens and residents without oversight or legal sanction. The Electronic Privacy Information Center received documents indicating that agents of the FBI have seized bank records without authority, examined e-mail on an expired warrant, and conducted a physical search of a person without consent.

The USA Patriot Act, a piece of hastily and poorly conceived legislation enacted in the wake of 9/11, granted broad powers of surveillance to domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The lack of scrutiny and the far reaching scope almost beg to be abused. From 2002 to 2004, the Intelligence Oversight Board recorded at a minimum 287 potential violations of the laws concerning secret surveillance. No one can know the exact number; the records are unfortunately incomplete.

Antibacterial soap offers no protection, but it might give you cancer

A new report by the FDA Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee reveals that antibacterial soap does not protect against infection any better than ordinary soap and water.

From the MedpageToday article:
"Bacteria are not going to be destroyed," said Stuart B. Levy, M.D., director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts in Boston testified. "They've seen dinosaurs come and go," he noted. "They will be happy to see us come and go. Any attempt to sterilize our homes is fraught with failure."

So just what benefits do antibacterial soaps provide? Well, they dose you with toxic chloroform, and they help breed drug-resistant super diseases.

Known toxins in everyday products

According to the U.S. FDA, most hygiene products are not safety tested for long-term use. The average person uses nine such untested products every day—soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, and on and on—comprising a mix of some 126 ingredients. This leads to a potentially toxic “cocktail effect”.

The Independent lists some known toxins in personal care products. It contains such comforting sentences as, “Conventional toothpastes often contain irritating detergents like sodium lauryl sulphate, which can cause sore gums and mouth ulcers, and abrasives like hydrated silica, which can erode tooth enamel.”

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Saddam witnesses refusing to testify

The Telegraph reports:
The trial of Saddam Hussein is in danger of collapsing because dozens of witnesses are refusing to testify against him after being told the former dictator had issued death threats from his cell.
Saddam reportedly threatened to “order a second act of mass murder in Dujail and to have the town razed afterwards”.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hurricane Wilma

Wilma has become the strongest hurricane ever recorded.

On its present course, it could hit Florida this Sunday.

The Secret Service is watching

If you use a color laser printer, every page you print contains hidden information, most likely including your printer's serial number and the date and time you printed the page, thanks to a voluntary arrangement between the U.S. Secret Service and printer manufacturers.

If you registered your printer with the manufacturer, the U.S. government can probably trace anything you've printed on it directly to your home address.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

How to get money out of Moldovan banking facilities: ask hypnotically

Your money at the First National Bank of Moldova is completely secure... as long as no one just asks for it.

Why all the fuss about a guy from eastern Europe who is using arcane mental powers for personal gain?

How to get into a U.S. nuclear facility: act casual

Okay, so ABC's map of U.S. nuclear sites under the heading “LOOSE NUKES” is maybe a little sensational. But the vulnerabilities are real.

It should have been a reality show. ABC split 10 Carnegie Fellows (graduate students, basically) into teams and sent them on a road trip to 25 lovely U.S. college campuses and their quaint nuclear reactors. Hilarity dutifully ensued.
  • At Ohio State:
    The Fellows arrived unannounced and were given access to the reactor and its control room for a tour by the retired director, who was gardening outside. He unlocked the building door, which leads directly to the reactor room, and let the Fellows in carrying bags and without checking ID.
    What a nice guy. OSU's comment on this little security incident: “We did an exceptional job.”

  • At Texas A&M:
    A nuclear engineering student led the detailed 90-minute tour, during which the Fellows stood above the reactor pool and videotaped the reactor pool and core, while the reactor was running. When a Fellow asked whether there were any guards at the facility, the tour guide chuckled and said: “No, I mean, did you see any guards? Yeah, there's no guards and stuff.”
    The building with no guards and stuff contains up to 17 kg of highly enriched uranium.

  • At University of Maryland:
    The doors to the reactor building were propped open with a garbage can and remained open throughout the day and night. [...]

    “I think the security is completely perfect here,” said Reactor Director Mohamad al-Sheikhly. “I am not concerned at all about the terrorists.”
    We're not either, really, but that's because we're plastered. What's al-Sheikhly's excuse?

  • ABC didn't even have to send anyone to Los Alamos National Laboratory. They just interviewed its senior safety officer, Christopher Steele.
    According to Steele, the equivalent of 5,000 pounds of plutonium in barrels of radioactive waste is stored outside the laboratory under a tent. There it is vulnerable to theft and would be extremely dangerous if detonated on site, where it would release a radioactive plume.
The Alarmist is just grateful Fox didn't have the idea first. They'd have sent Paris Hilton and Nichole Richie—and come away with a full nuclear arsenal.

Iran's Not-So-Secret Nuclear Ambitions

Currently tearing up the charts in Iran: "Oriental Sun, Nuclear Science" and "Nuclear Know-How." I can't imagine this will lead to good things.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Time to get your flu shot... or not

With the advent of winter, flu season arrives, which would make it the logical time to receive an influenza vaccination. Be careful: that healthy dose of vaccine may also contain a decidedly unhealthy dose of mercury.

For those headed off to college, it might be wise to study up on the risks of another common vaccine.

Mother Russia Loves Her Some ICBMs

Russia's been going missle test crazy recently. Considering the rise of islamic fundamentalism within its borders, the steady revocation of civil liberties, the almost total disintegration balanced government, and its cozy relationship with Iran, I'd say there is cause for concern.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

So, you think avian flu is the next SARS?

Here today, gone tomorrow? Think again. This one has People In High Places worried. Very worried. Two million Americans dead, shattered economy, and end of American Civilization worried.

Nazi death doctor cornered in Spain

If you happen to live in the Spanish town of Palafrugell, you might want to get a glass in your hand before reading this Haaretz article, which describes how police are closing in on, but have not yet apprehended, notorious Nazi torturer and killer Dr. Aribert Heim, who is hiding out in your hometown.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Polio returns to U.S.

Reuters reports that four Amish children in Minnesota have contracted polio, a disease the U.S. CDC considers to have been “eradicated from the Western Hemisphere”. Officials are worried the virus could spread to other Amish communities.

Australia

Proposed legislation in Australia would grant the government absurd new police powers. Hard to believe:
Under the bill, the Government can apply to a court for control orders on terrorist suspects who have not been charged. These orders include house arrest, preventing them using the telephone or internet and restricting their social contacts and work opportunities. Suspects can also be fitted with tracking devices.
This applies to people who haven't even been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. The government doesn't even have to tell the suspect for what suspected crime he is being imprisoned.

The article also refers to new limits on anti-war protests, but offers no details.

Yet another U.S. spy agency

The new National Clandestine Service is so secret, we can't even tell you who runs it. Just call him José.

Avian flu is in Europe

H5N1 is spreading. First Turkey, then Romania. Authorities are killing thousands of birds in gas chambers and burning the bodies. Many countries have banned poultry and live bird imports from the two countries.

The U.S. remains unprepared.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Well, at least there isn't a shadow war on porn happening in America.

So, I was looking around on metafilter one day, and couldn't help but notice that the NSA (also known as the people who read your mail and listen to your phone calls) have a patent on a "method of geolocating logical network addresses." Or, as I call it, the ability to know where someone is when they're looking at pornography.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

God to Bush: Invade

The White House last week categorically denied that President Bush ever said God had personally commanded him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Q: Are you aware of the -- there's a BBC broadcast tonight that's quoting the Palestinian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as saying that they were in a meeting with the President in June of '03, and there are some very detailed quotes here, saying that the President said to them, "God told me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan,' and I did," and then "God told me, 'George go and end the tyranny in the Iraq'" and so forth and so on?

Scott McClellan: No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments.
All the same, that's how Mahmoud Abbas remembers it, according to the Washington Post (published in the Indianapolis Star):
Shortly after the summits took place, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained the minutes of a Palestinian meeting in which then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas recounted the session with Bush. Haaretz provided a translation of Bush's words into English that was remarkably similar to the BBC account.
Arab columnists vented. God declined to comment. Just another day in U.S.-Arab politics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Obituary

Preston G. Simpson, personification of The Alarmist and a dear friend, died at his home on October 6, 2005. He was 29.

Preston was the person to call if the world were ending. He was ready for any disaster. When we were closest, some years ago, he was never far from: a handkerchief, a knife, a lighter, pain medication, highway flares, and a baseball bat. Just in case. Later he abandoned the physical trappings of preparedness, but he never stopped being the go-to guy for crises large and small, physical and personal.

He studied the worst of history and kept his sense of humor. He gave blood regularly. He looked good in a hat. He was a true friend and an amazing person, and to know that he is gone from the world is almost intolerable.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Soldiers in massacre are still in Bosnian government.

Of the 19,473 Serb soldiers identified as having participated in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, about 900 are still employed by the Bosnian Serb government. They're mostly police and soldiers. (International Herald Tribune.)

The massacre is one of the worst things to happen in my lifetime. The Serb army slaughtered 7,800 Bosniak men and boys in three days while UN peacekeepers stood by.

Spies

FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo is already facing charges of leaking classified information to Filipino leaders. Now the FBI is investigating whether he might have done the same when he worked at the White House from 1999 to 2001. Reportedly Aragoncillo has already admitted as much. (Houston Chronicle.)

Meanwhile, Department of Defense analyst Lawrence A. Franklin pleaded guilty to charges brought under the Espionage Act that he handed over secret intelligence to an Israeli lobbying group. (San Jose Mercury News.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Not to sound like a broken record.

U.S. researchers have managed to recreate the virus that was responsible for the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. You may recall from your history classes (and earlier articles here) that the 1918 flu killed over 25 million people worldwide.

You can read more about the feat here (BBC) or here (AP, via Yahoo! News). Or you could do what I'm doing and try not to think about the end of the civilized world as we know it if this thing gets loose. The researchers say that the virus (ten vials' worth) will be kept well contained but that they may make more if they need it for research purposes.

Right.

There is no cause for alarm.

Rather than risk a false alarm, officials at the Department of Homeland Security didn't bother to tell Washington, DC authorities or the Centers for Disease Control that a number of sensors at the Mall might have detected the presence of tularemia. The CDC was not notified for at least three days following the event, which occurred the day after an anti-war rally at the Mall. CDC officials said that they "expected final testing to disprove the presence of the bacteria." (Washington Post)

The death of Posse Comitatus?

In the wake of fears regarding the possible outbreak of a bird flu pandemic and coming on the heels of the much-criticized federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, President Bush yesterday submitted a plan to Congress to allow him to use federal troops in policing duties. (CNN)

The President went on to say:
"But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the president to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak."
It is difficult to avoid the notion that Bush had more than bird flu on his mind when he suggested this.

Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, such action might be illegal; the Act was passed with the express purpose of preventing the military from being used as a national police force. On the other hand, so many erosions and exceptions to the Act have been made already that it is an open question whether the Act still has any power today. (Trebilcock).

Calcutta paper: U.S. plans to invade Iran.

Calcutta Telegraph columnist K.P. Nayar writes:
Top-ranking Americans have told equally top-ranking Indians in recent weeks that the US has plans to invade Iran before Bush’s term ends. In 2002, a year before the US invaded Iraq, high-ranking Americans had similarly shared their definitive vision of a post-Saddam Iraq, making it clear that they would change the regime in Baghdad. (Emphasis added.)
Nayar doesn't name his sources.

It wouldn't be especially worrying to find that the U.S. military had plans to invade Iran. Presumably it has plans for many contingencies, likely and unlikely. But if the U.S. diplomatic corps is putting allies on notice... that would mean the decision has been made, and war is all but inevitable.

Credit: Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Moore running for governor.

No, not that Moore.

Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who put a 2.5-ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state courthouse and defied a court order to remove it, is running for governor. (Washington Post.)

Devil disease strikes Australian state.

Devil facial tumour disease is spreading unchecked (ABC News) across the Australian state of Tasmania. No one knows what's causing it or how it is transmitted. Up to 100% mortality is reported in some communities. Fortunately for you and me, the disease affects only Tasmanian devils, not humans. The disease has already claimed 20% to 50% of the devil population.

Read more:

Stolen cars converted to bombs?

Add car thieves to the list of people who may be supporting terrorism. According to this article in the Boston Globe, the FBI's counterterrorism unit is looking into reports that some of the vehicles used in recent car bombings in Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq. There is no evidence yet that the cars are being stolen specifically for use in car bombings, but Steven Emerson, of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, says, "Some of the proceeds [from auto theft] are going to terrorists."

Avast, ye scurvy dogs!

Apparently it isn't enough that Somalia hasn't had a stable government since 1991 or that famine is recurrent there or that the infant mortality rate is over 11%. Now the Somalis also have to deal with maritime piracy. (BBC)

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there have been between 15 and 22 incidents of piracy or attempted piracy off the Somali coast since March of this year, up from two the year before. At least one vessel carrying international aid, the MV Semlow, was captured by pirates in late June and may have been used in an attack on another vessel. The pirates don't use old fashioned and romantic conventions such as cutlasses and making people walk the plank; they favor speedboats and machine guns.

More information:
The Weekly Piracy Report.
CIA World Factbook entry for Somalia.

Bagged salad may contain E. coli.

The US FDA is alerting customers to throw away certain bags of Dole pre-cut salad that have been connected to an E. coli outbreak. Eleven of the twelve people who got sick had bought the salad. Bizarrely, Dole isn't convinced there's anything wrong. (Washington Post.)

If you have any bags of salad in the fridge, you might want to at least skim the article.

Coming soon: cloneburgers.

“The federal government is nearing a decision to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned cows and their offspring, according to officials,” reports the Indianapolis Star. There's no word on whether there will be a labelling requirement. Presumably not: there's no such requirement for genetically engineered foods.

Just think: a few years down the road, whenever we go to McDonald's, we could all be eating from the same cow. Genetically speaking, anyway.

Monday, October 03, 2005

No experience required.

President Bush still has a vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court. Going far afield for candidates, he has nominated Harriet Miers, who is currently counsel for the White House. Miers was the first woman to serve as president both of the Texas Bar Association and the Dallas Bar Association, but has never held a judgeship. (The Guardian)

I guess there's nothing like starting at the top.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Corsica

Striking ferry workers hijacked a boat (later recovered by special forces), blocked two seaports, and effectively blockaded the French island of Corsica. Tourists on the island had their vacations unexpectedly extended, as there was no way to leave. Sympathetic strikes shut down Corsica's airfields and the major port of Marseilles on the mainland, while a trucker strike made fuel scarce. During the festivities, someone fired a rocket at a government building on Corsica. No one was hurt. (Euronews.net, BBC.)

Yesterday French troops moved in, arresting protesters and reopening the port of Ajaccio. (BBC.)

Earlier this year, workers for the same government-owned ferry company, SNCM, set cars on fire and threw chunks of metal at police while trying to shut down the port of Marsailles. (Asheville Global Report.) At the time, the seamen were protesting legislative changes that led to wage competition from foreign workers. The current strike is to halt the planned privatization of SNCM, but if the union succeeds, the debt-ridden company will quickly go bankrupt. Recent EU regulations prohibit the French government from bailing it out.

25 dead, 100 wounded in Bali bombings

Three restaurants in Bali resort towns were bombed. Police reportedly found additional unexploded bombs. (BBC, FOX News.)

Three years ago, bombings in two crowded Bali nightclubs killed 202 people. Those bombings were linked to Jemaah Islamiah.