Saturday, December 29, 2007

ASK THE LORDS OF THE FLIES: Punches in groin passed off as wisdom

"Free news will cost journalism dearly" was the title of a recent Consumer Confidential column in the Los Angeles Times. The discussion was on what we already know: Anything that can't be nailed down in cyberspace is taken for free, including news, and no one can figure out how to monetize it.

This has meant very bad things for newspapers, including the Times. As circulation decreases, the newspaper is scrambling with a new order to find some type of solution in cyberspace.

DD doesn't believe there is one. I never use the LA Times website except as a convenience to blog readers, as the destination of a link from something cited here.

I read the Times, home-delivered, everyday at lunch. Haven't missed an issue as long as I've been in southern California.

The LA Times' website in no way compares to the pleasure I get from reading the daily newspaper. There's absolutely no compelling reason why I should substitute the web's claustrophobic, crabbed and awkward delivery for something I can read comfortably while at the table.

These days, the newspaper has been pouring resources into its website like there's no tomorrow.

The publication acts like there is no future, that the on-line version is much more important than that stupid paper edition, that the latter can just wither away as long as there's a presence in cyberspace.

To that, DD says, knock yourself out. The assumption is an insult to serious readers.

Yep -- log-in [sigh] -- click -- wait for the page to load -- clickety-click -- wait for the next, discover it's something you aren't interested in, a task that takes barely a blink in the paper copy. Wow! Some progress!

For the Consumer Confidential column, reporter David Lazarus mulled over the future.

"Everyone says the Net represents the future of journalism and that's probably true," he wrote. "But at this point no one knows how to make money at it."

This is only true in the sense that no one knows how to make money at it on the order needed to finance a world-class news operation like the Los Angeles Times. While that might not sound tragic to laymen, I want (although maybe you don't) newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and their big budgets and overhead to get stories which require deep digging and dedicated journalists and editors. The world is not better served just by ad hoc collections of stringers and one-off free-lancers employed to furnish stuff for digital real estate around which ads can be clustered.

Lazarus wrote: "I figured the best way to understand the trend was to turn to the people with the most at stake: young journalists accustomed to getting their news free on-line, but also looking ahead to paying jobs at newspapers.

"That's how I found myself before the Christmas break in a window-less computer-packed room with the teenage staff of Crossfire, the student newspaper of Crossroads School, a well-regarded, K-12 private institution in Santa Monica that happens to be my alma mater," explained Lazarus.

"Braaappp!" went the bullshit detector. Not because of what was written, but because what the reader was about to be delivered. Fresh and hot, wisdom from the Lords of the Flies, the always unimpeachable logic of teenagers.

DD has now been in cyberspace for almost two decades and has seen a variety of teenagers come and grow into not-teenagers along with stories in which journalists seek their wisdom in order to divine the future. The results have always been the same, just like reading unmoderated comments pages or the old Usenet: You get a kick in the nuts and your glasses broken, gratis.

Lazarus anonymizes his sources, an odd move, since just before Christmas the business section ran a story in which a local teen stealing holiday music enjoyed no such benefit.

He starts off by asking his teen pals at the student newspaper if they pay for anything on-line.

Naturally, they don't. But there is an asterisk. They pay for music on iTunes, Lazarus reported. DD doesn't believe that. More accurately, the teenagers no more pay for iTunes than they buy their own iPods. Mummy and Daddy, or someone else furnishing an allowance or digital gifts, pay for iTunes.

Of course, not one of them pays for news, either.

"These bright, info-hungry, computer-savvy kids willingly paid for the latest cuts from Alicia Keys or Fergie," Lazarus wrote. "But they couldn't imagine having the same relationship with the New York Times..."

The awful cliches are delivered in one sentence! Those high school kids are always bright, always "info-hungry" and "computer savvy."

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Basically, they're average. Not particularly "info-hungry," they surely download an endless pile of digital stuff, mercilessly and witlessly, just like every other teenager DD has met in cyberspace.

In 1994, DD wrote The Virus Creation Labs, the first first-person book on the teenage culture of computer virus writers and the cyberspace systems which served them. Many of the kids in it were good students. One of the main characters in VCL was the editor of his school's newspaper. For the most part, except for one or two genuine oddball sociopaths, they were apparently the same as the kids sampled in Lazarus' column.

Were they exceptionally "cyber-savvy?" While it might have seemed that way to casual passers-by, they never seemed that way to me.

Did they have some crystal ball into the future, some wisdom to share that we should have all bent over backwards to heed?

No, they didn't. They made for an interesting book, though.

Back in 1994, they obeyed the model which everyone would follow in cyberspace. Steal everything and don't feel bad about it.

"Information should be free," "declared" and eighteen-year-old named Corey, to Lazarus. This was the now standard rationalization that newspapers must give their news away, that such a state of affairs is as natural as oxygen in the air.

It was a sentiment "...I encounter a lot online, particularly among bloggers who feel a perverse sense of entitlement to other people's work," added Lazarus.

In reality, "Information should be free," is a meek and mild variation on the far more entitled and belligerent, "Information wants to be free!"

"Information wants to be free!" was an old hacker slogan, said to be first uttered by Stewart Brand in the Eighties, often repeated as a battle-cry in cyberspace. Generally, it was used to rhetorically club to death those who wished to attach value to something they naively put into the digital world.

By 1994, the bromide was zinc-plated and corroded. In Virus Creation Labs, I paraphrased what someone really meant when they tossed it in your face:

"Your information is mine for free. But everything I can grab is secret unless you have something I want which can't be free-loaded, stolen or found somewhere else."

"Our generation doesn't pay for things on the Internet," a fifteen-year-old girl named Phoebe told Lazarus. It's an age thing, you see, she explained.

In 1994, eighteen-year-old Corey of Crossroads School in Santa Monica was still probably wetting the bed. Phoebe was even worse off.

When you ask teenagers for their opinions on what should be the way of things in cyberspace, you get exactly what you pay for. Crap. Everything must always be free and you'll find some way to work it out. If you don't and are crushed, tough. It's the social Darwinism of The Lord of the Flies in action.

Said Jacob, sixteen, to David Lazarus: "I'm sure there are a bunch of smart people at Tribune or Universal or NBC ... I'm sure they can come up with a business model that works."

Thanks, kid. Top fuel advice from on the ground at the private school for the spoiled children of the upper middle class in Santa Monica.

In terms of comparisons, DD didn't pick up the habit of reading a daily newspaper until college. He wasn't an editor or reporter at the school newspaper, the Pine Cone at Pine Grove Area High School. It folded his freshman year. Paradoxically, DD did deliver newspapers for a couple years, even doing sports reporting for the same paper, the town weekly, while in junior high.

In graduate school, the Philadelphia Inquirer became the the daily read, a fact which irritated my thesis advisor. Reading it over lunch, it actually stretched the free time into about forty-five minutes at mid-day. That was thirty minutes too long away from the lab bench.

In any case, reading even more stories delivering advice and fundamentally obnoxious statements on the ways of the world from our Lords of Flies has never been enlightening. A student with a genuinely cutting and subversive outlook might have recommended newspapers think about getting into the on-line porn business or other vices which are monetized in cyberspace such as gambling, poker or watching strippers whilst engaged in self-fulfillment.

Another question that could have been asked for the article, but which wasn't, is a simple one: Why doesn't the journalism advisor at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica require each student to have their own subscription to a daily newspaper?

That would serve two purposes. First, it teaches value. You go to private school, you can have an iPod bought for you, you can certainly buy a daily newspaper or inveigle Mummy and Daddy into purchasing it.

Second, it gets one into the habit of occasionally getting one's nose out of cyberspace for something that's arguably a more readable good of quality in its physical form.

That'd be so 20th century! You clueless poop. Only me Grandmum buys a newspaper! Now go die, geezer.

Free news will cost journalism dearly.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Published in a Sunday edition of the Washington Post in August 2005.

"Defendant after defendant has discovered that a long-forgotten internet search has left an indelible record sufficient for a conviction under the profoundly disturbing section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows prosecution for simple possession of an item likely to be useful to terrorists, and carries a sentence of up to 10 years' imprisonment," wrote Gareth Piece for the Guardian on the 21st.

Pierce is a well-known defense lawyer in England. Her firm was notably reponsible for the defense in the trial of the notorious so-called London ricin gang and she has represented many others in England's ongoing terror trials.

"While the record of use remains permanently, no equivalent reconstruction is available or even required of the mindset of the user at the time," she continued. "The common elements in each conviction have now become familiar: the defendant had not the slightest idea that such possession was inconsistent with the right to freedom of thought; was not remotely involved in any terrorist activity; and was Muslim."

This blog has repeatedly analyzed and published portions -- even entire copies -- of documents which are now, for practical matters in the UK courts, considered seditious publications. For the legal system, there are only two working justifications for having them: Being a jounalist or a professional tasked with analyzing them.

For the trial of Samina Malik, aka The Lyrical Terrorist, DD was asked by the defense to contribute a short analysis concerning the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.

It was found in Malik's possession and is considered, wrongly, to be a document of potential use to terrorists. It contains many errors and some rather large fabrications which, while not obvious to laymen, are glaringly apparent to professionals trained in chemistry and biology.

DD has combed over it many times in the past year, tracing its origins and showing that it is fundamentally just an abridged and Bowdlerized copy of a pamphlet that had been published in the US in 1988, Maxwell Hutchkinson's The Poisoner's Handbook (Loompanics).

Samina Malik, from Southall, west London, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of owning terrorist manuals," reported the BBC simply in November.

"The jury heard Malik had written extremist poems praising Osama Bin Laden, supporting martyrdom and discussing beheading ... Malik worked at WH Smith at Heathrow Airport until her arrest last October."

Malik was convicted for possessing records deemed to be of potential use to terrorists, including the document pictured above. It has been published many places on the web and the above snapshot was published in a Sunday edition of the Washington Post newspaper in 2005. Naturally, it is an object of great curiosity, and not just to aspiring terrorists.

However, if you reside in the United Kingdom, have downloaded it and are swept up in a counter-terror dragnet, you are in big trouble.

"[She] was acquitted on a more serious charge of possessing articles for terrorist purposes, a fact that the judge said he took into account when deciding on a suspended sentence," reported the Los Angeles Times in early December.

"Additionally, possession of the Channel 4 film Road to Guantánamo, or 21st-century Crusaders, a compilation of documentaries from the BBC and elsewhere, is currently being held to demonstrate 'radicalisation', a condemnation as conveniently imprecise as the label 'subversive' used in the postwar McCarthyite witch-hunts in America," adds Pierce in her Guardian piece.

David Mery discusses the issue on his blog here and the Guardian original by Gareth Pierce is here.

In November, I published more on this issue here at el Reg in "How just thinking about terrorism became illegal."

Madam, you're a better girl than I.

Guitar Hero III and Rock Band are totally unavoidable in shopping trips to consumer electronics stores. As a guitar player for 40 years, I view the in-store demos of the games as primarily exercises in pitiless annoyance. What could be more embarrassing than people holding plastic toy guitars in public while trying to mime along to classic rock hits played by cartoons on a TV screen?

But one can gripe and grump for only so long before curiosity becomes irresistible. While playing a computer game with attached guitar controller can't possibly be like playing an actual guitar, here are some comparisons after I stood in line to play Guitar Hero III.

DD finally bit the bullet, exposing himself to ridicule and impatient people at BestBuy. And you can read about my encounter with Guitar Hero III here at el Reg.

Should I have cut my losses and been satisfied with the made-by-Chinese-slave-labor guitar instead? You decide.


Appealing to the pathetic and annoying.

The windmill.

Slave labor guitar or Eddie van Halen relic?

Monday, December 24, 2007

HOW THOUGHTFUL: I stole this mix of Christmas music just for you

"Giving, taking pirated carols" read a lead story in today's LA Times business section.

Naturally, when one sees a business or features story these days about the fabulous world of downloaded music, it's all about the inexhaustible cool of young people stealing everything that can't be nailed down. And how out-of-it and old are those who stupidly still buy music on CDs.

"Older people tend to buy the CDs," reads the subhed.

"Swapping copyrighted music is illegal," reports the newspaper, somewhat obviously. "But people such as 17-year old Jordan Krinke of Yorba Linda say they don't experience even a twinge of guilt about downloading pirated Christmas music for her friends. In fact, Krinke said she used the tracks she found free ... to create holiday compilation CDs for her friends."

How thoughtful is Jordan Krinke of Yorba Linda.

Let's see, she bought her CDs at BestBuy or the supermarket or her mommy and daddy did. (Why did the newspaper not find someone who at least tried to steal the digital media, too?) And she put together a mix of tunes for her friends that they might not even play once, if DD knows the general attitude about hearing more Xmas tuneage after being exposed to it in shopping malls since just after Thanksgiving.

DD understands.

It's like giving someone you don't really give a fig about during the holiday season a fruitcake, like we did in old-timey days. Only we had to actually pay for the fruitcake, a card and the giftwrap.

"This is one issue that really skews with age," said some egghead for the Times because newspaper reporters are forbidden from stating that which is self-evident unless an expert can be found to say it.

"The generational gap still means there are plenty of people who still shell out for holiday albums." That's so 20th century!

Now, you didn't forget to put "Santa Got Run Over by a Reindeer" on your gift CDs, did you, Ms. Krinke?

Outstanding Teen 2007
-- Jordan Krinke. Please say you didn't steal that Xmas music!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

CLEAN COAL TO SAVE WORLD IN ILLINOIS: Revive brokedown economy and shove all greenhouse gas into a deep hole, too

If you read the standard print on clean coal -- that is, the revived Fischer-Tropsch technology of the Third Reich -- the future is always bright. The end to global-warming is just around the corner. When a new pilot plant is slated to go into operation in 2012, it will all become clear. Its energy innovations will spread like wildfire and the coal reserves of the United States will make oil dependence a thing of the past.

All the bad carbon dioxide -- the millions of tons produced per year by any single plant -- will just be pumped into the ground.

Why did no one think of such an elegant solution -- down instead of up -- sooner?

"Illinois won a battle with Texas [last] Tuesday for a showcase clean-coal research project, but within hours the [Department of Energy] waved a caution flag about rising costs and said it wasn't ready to sign off on the $1.8 billion FutureGen power plant," reported the Chicago Tribune here.

"The [Mattoon, Illinois] cutting-edge plant is designed to test whether technology can coax abundant coal into making electricity with little pollution, burying greenhouse gases deep in the earth."

One of bad feature, among several, common to Fischer-Tropsch plants is the regular escalation of estimates of their costs and the fact that virtually all of the corporate entities proposing to build them want the taxpayer to foot all or a substantial part of the bill. In other words, the financial risk to the wealthy in the development of a risky venture is passed off to the middle class and is unrecoverable should such projects become busts or worse than what they propose to cure.

Last week DD blog pointed you to a similar plant proposed for Schuylkill County, PA. It went from $600 million to $1 billion in about the space of a year. Now, a similar plant for Illinois is checking in at $1.8 billion.

The sticking point is an expense thought needed to control carbon dioxide by means not yet in any way ready for the scale of use envisioned. Despite much talk on sequestration, old style coal-burning electrical plants in the United States still pump it into the air. And let's not even get started on China.

For you to go with the clean coal fantasy, you have to get down with the idea that what couldn't be done for years with those plants will now suddenly be done for Fischer-Tropsch plants. We'll just pump our carbon dioxide deep underground and that's where it will stay! Global-warming pretty much cured!

"Calling it zero-emission is a blatant lie, and vastly overselling the benefits," one man, a local expert for an respiratory health association, told the Tribune.

"Over at Mattoon High School, athletic director Gerald Temples was already dreaming about championships he can win with an influx of talented kids that [a Fischer-Tropsch plant] might bring to town with their parents," added the newspaper.

Climate change stiffed! Local high school football explodes! Could Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil also make the blind to see and the lame walk?

As in Schuylkill County, with its abundant piles of waste coal and not much else, the economy in Illinois where a Fischer-Tropsch plant is desired is flat.

Its coal reserves cannot be used in the conventional, read "only," manner because they're too polluting.

"Success could have major ramifications for the ailing Illinois coal industry, which sits on large reserves of dirty, high-sulfur coal," wrote another local newspaper on the Illinois plant. "Demand for Illinois coal has been hurt by clean-air laws."

The political trick is to resell Fischer-Tropsch plants as things which don't do the same. One dangles the prospect of jobs and the price of oil from the Middle East in front of audiences, bakes with a few skewed "facts" like coal-to-oil being "pollution free," add a tablespoonful of of pseudo-scientific gobble and the phrase "clean coal" -- and that job becomes doable.

And it is in this way in which a technology which steps on the gas pedal of carbon dioxide production is rebranded as environmentally friendly.

In an article that was largely for Fischer-Tropsch in
Scientific American,
a magazine which does not actually publish peer-reviewed science, it must be conceded that "despite some commercial demonstrations of ... carbon sequestration technology, largely to help recover more oil from depleted fields, none have approached anywhere near the scale necessary to significantly impact the 9.3 billion metric tons of CO2—and rising—emitted every year from burning coal."

Will the clean coil and we'll-bury-all-our-C02-in-the-ground memes flourish in 2008?

A page including links to the various sections of the Department of Energy's Environmental Impact assessment of the Gilberton, PA, Fischer-Tropsch plant is here.

In 2006, the Department of Energy was compelled to undertake a revision of carbon dioxide emissions when commenters uncovered that the original estimate had been simply taken from the waste coal management company that wants to build the plant. The revision resulted in an approximate tripling of the original estimate.

The DoE report also discusses the feasibility of sequestering carbon dioxide in the ground and judges the technology to be not mature at the time of publication, January 2007. DoE estimated sequestration on the scale called for by the plant's production of greenhouse gas to be at least fifteen years off.

Happy days are here again. Think "algae" instead of "clean coal."

This, today from the New York Times magazine, more algae-to-save-the-day tripe, a future Nobel Prize distilled into one paragraph:

"By far ... the largest, most prolific biomass energy resource available to us is aquatic -- namely algae (think gigantic algae blooms, appearing virtually overnight). Furthermore, wild algae, which grows readily on fertilizer runoff and municipal wastewater streams can simply be dried and burned directly in power plants as a carbon neutral substitute for the greatest greenhouse gas offender of all: coal." -- some heevahava from Massachusetts


World not saved, boo-hoo! Illinois FutureGen clean coal plant shot down. See here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


George W. Bush launched another pre-emptive war today, unsurprisingly. This one is against California. It was a sally for auto makers and a reinforcement of his real attitude on global warming, which is that of a pathological stonewall to progress that's translated into national inaction so transparent it got the US booed in Bali.

You can't let us get off the gas pedal on your terms, was Bush's argument. There'd be anarchy. Like he cares.

Pasadena often looks like the SUV capital of the world from DD's vantage point. We live under a pillar of smog, often invisible but always there, even on the brightest days. For twelve years I haven't been able to get sunburned in the ding-dang yard because of auto emissions. DD has to go to Santa Barbara to get seared, fer cryin' out loud!

We're definitely not green here and there's even a big Hummer dealer on Colorado -- that'd be Rte. 66.

Southern California represents a big chunk of the American auto market. The night lights from the sprawling auto dealerships along the Ventura Highway alone can probably be seen from orbit. Automakers need sales in California. It's a mighty ache for them to consider actually having to make vehicles that would meet its future standards.

So together with fourteen other states (even Pennsylvania), California has been mandating the elevation of fuel standards in a solid manner, effectively beginning to set environmental policy for the nation in the vacuum of national decadence and obstruction created by the President.

And the thing from the pit in the nation's capitol could not abide it.

It will be left to the courts to decide if the EPA's refusal to issue a waiver, as it has many times before, will be thrown down. In the Lehrer news hour Senator Barbara Boxer was refreshingly supercilious toward the White House and the former Bush adminstration hack chosen to argue for the EPA. If the two had been in the same room together, she looked like she might have slapped the man's face every time he lied or misrepresented what the EPA had or hadn't done in the past.

"The Bush administration’s decision to deny California permission to regulate and reduce global warming emissions from cars and trucks is an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry," wrote the New York Times.

Governor Terminator, how 'bout looking into getting the state National Guard to build a strategic deterrent?
MORE ON NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY: Positive thinking, if you were in the Third Reich in 1945

George W. Bush "praised Congress for adding money in the omnibus spending package that passed Wednesday for biofuel research 'that will enable us to use wood chips and switch grass and biomass' to produce ethanol which is now made with corn in the United States," reported the Los Angeles Times newspaper on page A15 today.

Yesterday, your friendly neighborhood PhD protein chemist worked over the standard airy tripe on cellulostics cellulosics and switch grass, a revolution in fulfilling energy needs that's been coming and coming and coming but never quite arriving for at least twenty years. More accurately, you can degrade cellulose enzymatically and eventually get to ethanol but the way of protein catalysis is probably not going to result in the miraculous things science-ignorant politicians and venture capitalists have others believe.

Since GWB's speechwriter put the same crap into his statement, it's an affirmation of the appraisal. If it's something that sounds scientific or advanced and George W. Bush thinks it's good, the common sense reaction would be to look the other way and spit.

In today's Times, the "American Values and the Next President" series was continued in the opinion section.

Dealing with "the powers of the earth," it was about "environmental issues." As usual, the president and most current, but not all, Republicans have no capital to spend in this domain. Call them aggressively for global warming and doing things our way on the highway.

Mike Huckabee is a "lukewarm greenie who supports capping carbon emissions to slow global warming but gives few specifics on how to do it." On the other hand, Huckabee also believes in creationism and thought scientists didn't understand the transmission of AIDS in 1992, so even if he comes up with specifics, unless they're written by someone more technically with it, they may showcase his unique blend of ignorance and amiable sincerity.

"[Republicans] rarely like to talk about the environment, a topic that does not resonate with the party's base," writes the Times. "What the party likes to discuss is 'energy security.'"

That means, in Mitt Romney's case, going forward to the past and the worthless technology of the Third Reich, for our energy future. It means stepping on the accelerator of global warming with rationalizations about "clean coal" and the capability of Fischer-Tropsch coil-to-oil plants.

"The main solution to this problem [of energy security] from Mitt Romney is to turn coal into liquid fuel -- which would indeed promote energy independence but at a ruinous cost to the environment because [the Fischer-Tropsch process] emits twice as much greenhouse gases as gasoline."

In World War II, Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil furnished a semblance of energy independence and energy security for the Third Reich. And that turned out pretty good, right? And much later, Fischer-Tropsch furnished some energy independence for apartheid South Africa when the rest of the world had isolated it.

These are certainly fine examples of national leadership to emulate.

The Democrats, while considered green, are not particularly better than Republicans. For starters, they've rolled over for a national energy policy that suits George W. Bush and the obstructionist Republican party. And some of them -- like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- are also keen on a Fischer-Tropsch renaissance.

"On biofuels, Congress should stop imposing mandates to increase production of renewable fuels until more environmentally responsible alternatives are available," writes the Times.

"The mania for corn-based ethanol is raising food prices, polluting waterways and threatening farmlands ..."

Almost all the candidates call for more biofuels, writes the Times. And it is all about pandering to "corn-growing" Iowa.

Here's a tongue-in-cheek recommendation for better national energy policy, from someone in California: Bomb Iowa.

"[Hillary Clinton] and Barack Obama also display a disturbing openness to [coal-to-oil], tarnishing their otherwise sterling green credentials."

In strict fairness, being for Fischer-Tropsch is a stain that obliterates almost everything else, a different kind of "green" as in "bring on the greenhouse."

For Clinton and Obama, favoring coal-to-oil could simply be more pandering, a looking ahead to a presidential race in which they'd like to peel off some votes in West Virginia or the hinterland of Pennsylvania. Obama pushes Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil as dishonestly as everyone else. Calling it "clean coal," he uses it as currency in Illinois which is striving for a Fischer-Tropsch plant in Fayette County under the auspices of perversely-named Clean Coal Power Resources, Inc.

In this, Obama are Clinton are similar to Tim Holden, the Democratic Congressman representing the voters of Schuylkill County in the House. They adhere to a facet of energy policy which calls for gross greenhouse gas-producing coil-to-oil plants, something which Republicans traditionally embrace. In the county, the Fischer-Tropsch plant website lives under the domain name of, the exact opposite of what it actually is. It has spawned a taxpayer effort to stop it at

In practice, Tim Holden is a Democrat in name only. He's been an untouchable Bush Dog Democrat, enabling all Republican policies in a staunchly Republican region. It is pointless to target Holden for removal efforts because no Democrat with progressive beliefs can run in the region and win anything.

Within the voting district this is a solid tradition started by Gus Yatron, who was a long-time career representative of the region. Yatron was only in the Democratic Party by relatively meaningless designation and he passed away in 2003.

It is logical that Holden would be a booster for a Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil plant in Schuylkill County. It is a win-win-win issue for many in the area. It means some jobs and government investment, a theoretical shot at being part of a revived coal industry, one of temporary growth.

In a country surrounded by enemies, one in which leaders saw no options other than simple solutions which slightly put off a future reckoning, like the Third Reich in World War II, coal-to-oil was a hot industry.

Over forty years later, it's rebranded in the United States as "clean coal" and "coal to liquids."

Guesswork on Fischer-Tropsch and the elimination of pesky carbon dioxide

Yesterday DD went over Fischer-Tropsch plants and the large amount of carbon dioxide they can be expected to produce.

A plant projected for Schuylkill County was given an environment evaluation by the Department of Energy. DoE predicted it would generate a whopping 2.28 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The idiot hype which has reigned over common articles on the bounty of Fischer-Tropsch waiting to be unleashed on coal reserves is that carbon dioxide can simply be sequestered underground.

Various methods have been looked at, one including fixing the carbon dioxide as a carbonate in a mineral formation. Nature does this slowly and the reaction is sluggish. And the laws of nature have resisted the blandishments of politicians and efforts to make it workable.

Other avenues of research envision injecting it deep underground into saline aquifers where, under pressure, it would theoretically break up into semi-liquid blobs which would be trapped in pores in rock. If they stayed there long enough, they might eventually wind up fixed as solid carbonates.

Most of this research has been done by computer modelling and testing on a micro scale with laboratory mock-ups. It is characterized by squirrelly-ness.

"Absence of experimental data on carbonate mineral and carbon dioxide solubility in natural brines under elevated carbon dioxide pressures makes it extremely difficult to verify modeling results, especially when considering rock/water interaction in the subsurface after injection of carbon dioxide," reads one paper entitled "Carbon Dioxide Sequestration in Saline Aquifers," with valuable honesty as it turns out, presented at a 2006 meeting of the American Geophysical Society.

"Although experimental results indicate carbon dioxide solubility estimates may be reliable, overall, it is difficult to confidently place quantitative constraints on the ultimate sequestration capacity of deep saline aquifers," it concludes.

Here is a contraption for observing the behavior of carbon dioxide under pressure produced by the US Geophysical Service. It explains the science and rationale, maybe a little too optimistically. The casual reader will notice the quantities being worked with in the lab in the tightly controlled experimental apparatus do not have much corollary with what would be a working Fischer-Tropsch plant producing two and a quarter million tons of carbon dioxide per year in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

Reporting on the environment problems posed by dirty Fischer-Tropsch coil-to-oil transformations has been almost non-existent.

However, some articles on their feasability, delivered by politicians to reporters, have been outright laugh riots.

Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, has been pushing Fischer-Tropsch plants in his state since 2002.

"Using an updated version of the technology the Nazis used to manufacture diesel fuel from coal during World War II, Gov. Brian Schweitzer believes Montana could produce oil and other petroleum products from the millions of tons of coal reserves it owns in southeastern Montana," reported the Billings Gazzette in 2005.

Then comes the howler.

"The coal-conversion process produces no air pollution..." states the article.

"It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?" says the governor to the insufficiently credulous reporter.

If you're into technicalities, you can cross your fingers and use a semantic dodge to call it true. The Fischer-Tropsch process can be employed in such a way as to remove a couple air-polluting compounds before gasified coal is catalyzed and condensed into liquid fuel. "Coal-to-oil diesel, for example, is sulfur free," reads one source on the science.

However, this is minor when compared to the huge amount of carbon dioxide produced by a Fischer-Tropsch plant. However, it is just this disingenous ploy that is used to call Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil applications "clean coal."

So either the Gazette reporter was flat crazy or Schweitzer was a liar in his zeal for coal-to-oil. Or, more benignly, just stupid. In both cases, journalists simply never called him on the bogus claims. In any case, Schweitzer is well-liked by Montanans, considered folksy and down-to-earth.

On is webpage he proudly touts Lesley Stahl's interview of him for 60 Minutes as the "Coal Cowboy." For that program, which DD saw last year, Schweitzer pushed the same swill fed to the Billings Gazzette in 2005.

"The environmental challenges of [coal-to-oil] fuel production and use are currently being examined by scientists and researchers," writes an explanatory page at the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research.

"Carbon dioxide, a leading cause of global warming, is released when coal is liquefied and again when the [coal-to-oil] fuel is burned."

It's an unequivocal statement of fact. In fact, it's baffling and dismaying to see news coverage and opinion pieces in which Fischer-Tropsch is described as a "clean coal." When you see it, think of it as something meant to confuse and obscure reality.

"In order for [coal-to-oil] products to enter the mainstream as a viable source of transportation fuel, scientists and researchers must find a way to limit carbon dioxide emissions. There are several methods of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration that are under development. These processes and technologies would capture and condense carbon dioxide during coal gasification."

Although its considers Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil transformations "a family of innovations," an opiniont DD does not share, the page is a very good summation of the science and is found here.


American Values and the Next President at the Los Angeles Times.

And you'll surely enjoy yesterday's installment on energy policy: Hot and fresh off the shelf of the Third Reich.

Another case of grandiose wishful thinking: Green jet fuel from microbes. A sample of the common sense-free cheerleading.

Synthetic biologists to save America! Or not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY: Off the shelf, hot and fresh, from the Third Reich

When George W. Bush signs something into law, anyone with common sense must be immediately suspicious that it is bad news.

So it was with the much applauded energy bill, mandating gas mileage standards for 2020 which were small potatoes in the Seventies and Eighties.

Growing up in Pennsylvania the Seventies, DD was intimately familiar with gas mileage in dad's giant Chevrolet station wagon. Equipped with a V8, it got a whopping 9-12 miles/gallon, about what the average SUV does in Pasadena, today.

Good old Dad worked at the ALCOA aluminum extrusion plant in Cressona, Schuylkill County, Pennsyltucky. Nine miles a gallon was great as long as we lived near the place.

But things got tough when ALCOA closed its Cressona facility and reassigned him to a bottle-cap making plant outside Lancaster, a three hour daily commute, round trip.

By the early Eighties, Chevy ownership in such a situation was sucking big time, fuel-wise. In fact, it was a financial calamity. Good old Dad bought a Volkswagen Rabbit with a diesel engine. Oh, how the mighty fell hard.

So you'll excuse DD for sneering at the energy bill, just another example in which Democrats show bad judgment and zero leadership in crafting meaningful energy policy.

If GWB likes it, it must -- by definition -- stink.

Throughout the press was the usual stupid and airy belief in biofuels, which are just a way of pushing the carbon load sent into the atmosphere off to a compound different than oil or coal. Since you have to burn more ethanol to get the same kick as gasoline, it's no special deal. It is, of course, quite special if you're a mega-agribusiness corn grower.

The other piece of wishful thinking that went into the energy bill is the usual mealy-mouthed tripe about ethanol from "cellulosics."

Journalists love the word. It sounds sophisticated! Especially when you combine it with "switch grass," of which it said there is going to be plenty to turn into ethanol.

But journalists definitely do not understand how cellulose is enzymatically degraded into shorter chain sugars, fit for fermentation/conversion to ethanol. And that's where the trouble starts.

While at Lehigh University and working on a PhD in chemistry in the mid-Eighties, this writer was familiar with a faculty member, a molecular geneticist, studying Trichoderma reesei, a fungus which produced cellulases.

Cellulases were microbially-produced proteins which catalyzed the breakdown of cellulose and, naturally, the big-eyed idea then was also to define and apply the science enough so as to enable the maximum production of cellulase for use in production of biofuels.

The scientist built a career on it, but cellulosic ethanol still isn't running the country. Although cellulase from T. reesei is used in the digestion of cellulose, it is not especially inexpensive or practical. In the past couple of years, an oil-rush-before-actual-oil industry has sprung up, one which promises cheap cellulases as well as many other things. Much of it is new snake oil for the investment rubes, lubricating jacked-up subsidies, grants, and hand-outs.

Without going into great detail on why the infinite bounty of nature's enzymes has resisted easy lending to cheap-as-water industrial transformations, it may suffice to say that old-timey molecular geneticists and biochemists knew something of the limitations in engineering various microbial boxes.

It involves some complication to explain precisely why, for example, active proteins which work miraculously well for the microbial systems in which they evolve, tend to become increasingly unstable when removed, purified, and put in a different environment. Regardless of having genetic sequences for the production of cellulases in hand, lifetimes can be spent puzzling over and characterizing the fine details of a protein's chemistry and its interaction with the world at large.

Journalists don't understand any of this. Real understanding would get in the way of cheerleading pieces of news on theoretical future biofuel production.

The New York Times is a good example of this regular putting of the cart before the horse for the sake of something which sounds glib and now.

"Corn ethanol is ... astonishingly inefficient: because vast amounts of fossil fuels are required for its manufacture, every 1 unit of energy nets a mere 1.3 units of ethanol," wrote one clever heevahava for the New York Times Sunday magazine recently.

"Is there a better way?"

Not obviously, no.

"In 2007, significant steps were taken toward a potentially great second harvest, some of it coming from the byproducts of animals, some of it from municipal waste and garbage but the bulk of it coming from plant biomass, which is really about breaking down cellulose, the key structural component of all plant cell walls and the most abundant of all naturally occurring organic compounds on earth," continues the reporter. "A recent Department of Energy study found the United States can produce a billion tons of plant biomass annually, yet 400 million years of evolution has made cellulose resistant — the term of art is 'recalcitrant' — to manipulation. Unlocking its complex compounds of sugars, whose potential yield is 4 times that of corn on a gallons-per-acre basis, typically requires an aggressive, four-step thermo-chemical process. Taken together, these steps have been too costly or too energy intensive for cellulosic fuel production to become economically viable. Cracking the conundrum of plant cell walls cheaply has become a Brigadoon-like dream that has been '5 years away,' as one wry observer put it, 'for the last 30 years.'"

Next comes the energy miracle, "a potentially revolutionary technique," just waiting for development.

"Until now — at least if you believe Vinod Khosla, one of the best-known venture capitalists in America, who was a founder of Sun Microsystems and an early investor in Google, and who has in recent years invested hundreds of millions of dollars into a dozen different biofuel companies using new and potentially revolutionary techniques," continues the prediction.

"Khosla has ... supported efforts to utilize the power of bioengineering. The goal here has been to create bacteria that will, in effect, eat cellulose and excrete oil. In February, a Khosla-backed company, LS9, announced its plans to make genetically engineered microbes that do just that. Another company, Verenium, exploits naturally occurring cellulose-eating enzymes in termites and fungus to produce ethanol."

Yes, another "revolutionary technique" -- harvesting cellulases -- has been intrepidly coming but never quite arriving since at least back when DD was first learning about protein chemistry, the purification of enzymes, and their kinetics in the real world.

Yep, of course one can harvest cellulases to degrade cellulose. It's just not particularly efficient or cheap or doable on the scale envisioned by those who write our national energy policies.

(Read the original piece of New Year's hype at the NY Times.)

"The [energy bill sets] a mandatory 'renewable fuel standard, requiring that the use of 'biofuels,' such as ethanol, be expanded five-fold by 2022 to 36 billion gallons," writes Tribune's William Niekirk at the Swamp blog, here republished at the Baltimore Sun.

"Technological breakthroughs are necessary in this area, too, and would require the mass production of ethanol from 'cellulostic' [sic] plant material that is now essentially waste."

A clue that Niekirk might also be in over his head on basic energy science is in the misspelling of cellulosic.

While Niekirk is hard on "cellulostics," it's not because he knows something the reader doesn't. It's because he's been told to question it by an energy consultant who is peddling an alternative, a worse one.

"[Andrew Weissman, an energy expert at FTI Consulting in Washington] is one of the skeptics," writes Niekirk. "He favors pushing head with proposals to liquefy coal in a clean process that would require the burying of carbon dioxide underground."

You certainly can do worse than think wishfully about cellulosic ethanol. Stupidly thinking that Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil plants are clean is one way.

Back in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, once one of the beating hearts of the coal industry, there was and is great interest in bringing in a company to employ old Third Reich technology for converting waste coal, of which there is plenty, to oil.

The Third Reich used Fischer-Tropsch plants to produce fuel when it was cut off from oil resources in World War II by the Allies. As the Reich crumbled, it became expert in the infrastructure of Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil production, so much so that the US military organized an effort after the war to salvage what it could from the German engineers of it. The then secret scientific survey was called the Technical Oil Mission and one can read about it at

Politicians pushing Fischer-Tropsch plants always call it "clean coal," as if the production of thousands of tons, even millions, of carbon dioxide in the process is just a slight exhale.

The toxic Democratic senator of West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller, also pushes Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil. In this, he is identical to pols working for a plant in Schuylkill County, PA. Both regions are flat-out desperate for infusions of jobs and money. There, businessmen have become rich in waste coal and slag heap management and these are the same businessmen who would like to become oil barons.

"Separate measures crafted by members of West Virginia’s delegation provide guaranteed loans and extend tax credits to develop coal-to-liquids technology, viewed as a critical component in making American energy independent," wrote the Register Herald newspaper in West Virginia.

"Developers must show they are capable of capturing 50 percent of the carbon emissions from a [coil-to-oil] facility in the next two years, and the figure must climb to 75 percent by 2010," it continues.

This is an impossible goal and DD will get to why in a minute. It essentially requires breaking the laws of nature, which even Congress cannot mandate.

"There is no single alternative fuel source that will address our growing energy needs and lessen our dependence on foreign energy," Jay Rockefeller told the newspaper.

"The responsible use of clean coal to meet our electricity and transportation needs must be in the mix. The overwhelming support of the Senate (a 79-14 vote) sends a clear message — coal conversion is a technology worth investing in.

"As he described it earlier in a meeting with The Register-Herald editorial board, the senator called for a major federal investment paralleling the Manhattan Project to find a workable solution to sequestering carbon."

The Allentown Morning Call and the Pottsville Republican newspapers have regularly covered the effort to build a Fischer-Tropsch plant outside Gilberton in Schuykill County.

Schuylkill County's coal-to-oil facility is being pushed by the owner of a waste coal management company.

"The plant, proposed by Rich's company Waste Management and Processors Inc. of Gilberton, Schuylkill County, would employ 600 people and use 3,400 tons of [waste coal called culm] a day to create more than 5,000 barrels of diesel fuel at the Mahanoy Township facility," reported the Call recently. "That would translate into 40million gallons a year that also could be refined into jet fuel and home heating oil."

The plant would also cost at least one billion dollars, a figure which shows about one doubling from its last published estimate.

"For the plant to get the green light, Rich must prove it won't cause more environmental harm than he contends his new fuel would prevent," reported the newspaper.

And that's not doable unless good-for-the-environment is redefined as wanting to get into the business of cheering on and abetting global warming. Yet this is exactly the type of energy business our politicians and and national leaders seem to like.

"The [Fischer-Tropsch] plant would increase global carbon dioxide emissions by 2.28 million tons a year, according to the Energy Department's impact statement," reported the newspaper.

Then, the so-called miracle cure, couched in hesitant terms.

"It may be feasible, the report said, to reduce that amount by sequestering underground some of the captured carbon dioxide." The newspaper did not mention that the same report mentioned industrial scale sequestration was at least fifteen years off in the future.

To understand why sequestration is something of a certified laugher, one that journalists don't really get into because it involves science, requires digging into a smidge of chemistry and physics.

To see the phrase "sequestering underground" almost makes one think it's as simple as pumping carbon dioxide into a hole in your backyard. Voila! Global warming cured!

Sequestering requires that carbon dioxide, as a gas, be converted to a stable mineral, a carbonate.

Nature can do this. Very very slowly. And the reason for this is because the reaction kinetics of the chemical fixing of carbon dioxide onto a common mineral deposit, like magnesium silicate, are not favorable in the way a carbon dioxide-producing global energy hog like the United States needs them to be.

This is a law of nature, one which cannot be overcome by wishful thinking and political fiat.

"These [sequestering reactions] are thermodynamically favorable but suffer from exceedingly slow reaction rates," writes a Department of Energy research report on the chemistry from 2003.

"The main thrust of the investigation was the direct reaction of serpentine [a common mineral] with carbon dioxide," continues the report.

"Substantial efforts are being made to devise technologies for the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. One of the more environmentally desirable technologies for the sequestration of carbon dioxide is the reaction of [it] with serpentine, forsterite and related ... minerals to immobilize the carbon dioxide as a benign compound, magnesite."

"However, the reaction rate of the gas/solid reaction is extremely sluggish at all temperatures below the thermodynamic phase boundary."

And that is the crux of the matter. The reaction rate is just fine in nature. If it were fast, in the way a Fischer-Tropsch plant requires it to be, we wouldn't be having this fun discussion. The earth probably would be a dead world. Green plant life could not exist if the laws of chemistry were favorable to coal-to-oil producers, as the ground would have gobbled up all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere aeons ago.

[The report is here as a .pdf. It delves into a few experiments aimed at reaction acceleration, none with very enticing results, as would be expected.]

So the desperate research is to find a way to quicken the fixation of carbon dioxide. That means pumping energy into the reaction through a variety of means. The problem arises in that one winds up spending too much energy in an attempt to do it. This destroys any value a Fischer-Tropsch coil-to-oil plant may have.

Of course, if you don't give a fig about that pesky carbon dioxide...

The significance of carbon dioxide sequestration in earth's history is rather nicely framed in this story from Science Daily here.

"The chemical reaction that weathered away part of the Appalachians would have consumed large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere –- right around the time that the Ordovician ice age began," reads the article. Ironically, the Appalachians are exactly where our always-so-wise politicians want to build Fischer-Tropsch plants, because that's where the coal -- now in big waste piles -- was.

"The crustal plate underneath what is now the Atlantic Ocean pushed against the eastern side of North America, lifting ancient volcanic rock [which made the Appalachians] up from the seafloor and onto the continent," reports Science Daily.

"This kind of silicate rock weathers quickly, [a scientist] explained. It reacts with CO2 and water, and the rock disintegrates. Carbon from the CO2 is trapped in the resulting sediment."

"The weathering of the mountains pulled carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, causing the opposite of a greenhouse effect -- an 'icehouse' effect," theorized scientists for the article.

So if you're up with global warming and opposed to an Ice Age, then you're in-line with all those smart and efficient national leaders who think "clean coal" and "coal to liquids" are the up-and-coming thing, not dusty and now virtually worthless tech dating from the Third Reich.

In any case, nature's weathering of mountains and the fixing of carbon dioxide isn't going to become a magic cure for gross polluters anytime soon. Make that never, DD would bet, if he were a betting man.

John Rich, who would like the Fischer-Tropsch plant built in Schuylkill County, told the Morning Call newspaper "carbon dioxide is a big concern."

"Rich also pointed to conflict in the Middle East as a reason to build the plant," added the newspaper.

"Nothing is more threatening to the environment than warring over energy," Rich added.

This is a rather amusing thing to say when one considers that the war in Iraq was brought on by George W. Bush and not out of immediate energy necessity. And if someone's environment has been wrecked, it's been Iraq's, not our great nation's.

"Budget Bill Has $8 Billion for Clean Coal," reads an item from a recent story on the Motley Fool investor site.

"Also in Washington, the House passed a budget package which includes $8 billion in loan guarantees for clean coal and coal-to-liquids projects through September 2009."

If you enjoyed this post, you surely won't want to miss the second installment. Includes more on efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide.
THE SNOB TOUTS AN ELECTRIC BICYCLE: That's a complete waste of money

A bit less than 24 miles/charge for a $3,000 bicycle. That's progress. Oof!

Susan Carpenter, the Los Angeles Times' reviewer of expensive two-wheeled conveyances, was slumming today in passing commentary on the iZip Express, a $3,000 electric bicycle only a moron could love.

Usually Carpenter only reviews high-end superbikes. She reports on their astonishing horsepower and how they go 186 mph -- or maybe could go lots faster -- if the manufacturers weren't concerned over liability issues and being regulated by the state for being irresponsible assholes.

Last week it was the usual stew.

Some 20k super motorcycle painted all in black -- the Darth Vader Road Dominator. (Not it's real name, but close, since Darth Vader was invoked in the write-up.)

Here's the summary of Carpenter with allowance for lampoon: The Darth Vader Road Dominator has lots of horsepower and torque! The rectangular double-overhead cam frammis is strip-fitted to the Glover energy sparger which develops 86 kilojoules/foot pound of bike. It's black. I got it up to 186 mph.

Have pity on the other writers who share the Highway 1 section. One of them regularly opines about silly things like not breaking the law or having a better attitude when you're on the road by not going so fast. How naive and un-with it.

But back to the iZip Express and Susan Carpenter for the Times', "Pedaling the eco-commute."

OK, now you're thinking this electic bicylce must be a green thing. Not exactly. It gets 24 miles per charge of the battery, according to Carpenter. It costs "ten cents" in electricity to charge the iZip, which she seems to think is a bargain.

A regular bicycle doesn't cost anything in electricity and does the same job, albeit slower, for a lot less than $3,000.

So the iZip Express is not particularly green, although perhaps the Times' consumer reporter and editors may be personally excused from the critical thinking necessary to arrive at such a conclusion. After all, it was once said by someone that it is morally wrong to encourage readers suckers to keep their money.

"It got me out of my car and into a cost-effective, eco-friendly commuter vehicle ..." writes Carpenter.

"I moved through all 27 speeds on the Shimano drive train with a combination of two movements ... I twisted the right grip to select among the nine speeds on the free-wheel, and I adjusted the tension on those gears with my left -- just like I would on a standard multi-speed bicycle."

A snob in China.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


In this novel, time travel stimulates protagonist to have sex with himself. A lot. Sadly, it was not destined for the popularity of tribbles.

"[Mr. David Gerrold] seems destined to be forever remembered as the guy who gave the world the alien race of cute, lovable, rapidly-breeding fluff balls known as tribbles," reported the NY Times Arts section today.

In "Nobody Knows the Tribbles He's Seen," the Times reveals, "For Mr. Gerrold [that reputation has] been a mixed blessing."

Mr. Gerrold wishes sometimes people would know him for other things, reports the newspaper. "You have a billion people who know 'Tribbles' and only half a million who know my novel The Man Who Folded Himself, which is one of my better known books," said the author to the Times.

Fair enough. DD has a copy of The Man Who Folded Himself. In the early Seventies it introduced him to the high-minded sci-fi concept that time travel whet the appetites for sex with oneself and orgies. Who knew?

Sci-fi reviewer David Pringle uncharitably writes that the book was "an indulgent time-tripping doppelganger tale with a high sexual content (the f-word in the title should really be something else). Sub-Heinleinian hi-jinks ... "

The blurb on the back of the paperback edition reads: "When you begin this adventure get ready to go through a lot of weird changes..."

"We were both stretched out naked on the waterbed, just staring at the ceiling and listening to the Pastoral Symphony, that part near the beginning where it goes 'pah-rump-pah-pah, rump-pah-pah ..."" writes Mr. Gerrold in The Man Who Folded Himself. In the scene the narrator is about to get cuddly with a copy of himself from the future.

Gerrold's time-travellers smoke dope on the bed and any reader can figure out what's up next.

I remember my dad was searching for something to read one night back ca. '73 when he came into my room and grabbed the book before I could say, "Wait!" He returned it a little later with the air of someone pointing out a soiled piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe.

"Man was made to mate with woman," goes The Man Who Folded Himself a few pages later, exhibiting a bit of what Woody Allen would later refer to as "homosexual panic."

"Man was not made to mate with man ... But does that mean man must not mate with man?"

In fairness, at one point the hero has sex with a female version of himself (who also likes girls more than boys) and is slightly repelled when older versions of himself fondle him at an orgy.

Who would have thought that tribbles would wind up much more famous? I never saw that coming, I tell ya.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

E-MAIL OF THE DAY: Tidings of comfort and joy


You have two major mistakes in your current blog.

First of all it's Audiopain not Acidpain, They are a old school blackened thrash band, not some hardcore punk band.

Secondly, if you bothered to read the one sheet that came on the back of the Havoc Unit promo you would of saw the album title was called h.IV+ [Hoarse Industrial Viremia], the Umoral was a sticker on the Havoc Unit letting you know a 7" by the name of Umoral was online at but I assume you didn't bother to go there to look for album covers since your review site is so minimalist.

Thanks for you time, check your shit before you comment on it!

Joseph // vendlus

Dear sir:

Thanks for your concerned and thoughtful note. As the first bare CD was so minimal, I did not realize it was named after HIV disease instead of the other thing on the sticker. You are quite right in pointing out this dreadful error.

With regards to Acidpain, rather -- Audiopain's The Switch to Turn Off Mankind: I still believe that printing the lyrics in black on black paper for the CD booklet was the most innovative development in heavy music this year, easy. Of course, I am now eagerly awaiting the band's next idea. What will they come up with in 2008?

Best wishes to you in this holiday season,


Throw away music -- the original.

Last week's installment of E-mail of the day.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Lots of pop music used to be called throwaway. The meaning wasn't literal, though.

Now it is. Since anyone can make and steal it there's irreversible glut. As someone who writes about music, often for money, I receive some promotional copies. Factoring in the raging surplus of music manufacture with the reality that only a small portion of any certain pie can be good, you come to one annoying conclusion.

Almost everything you get -- or buy on spec -- is going to be rotten.

Rotten stuff can't be traded in. There's too much of it. You can't even rationalize passing it off on people desiring freebies. The only answer is to throw it away in the trash, for real. Unless you like piles of stuff hanging around.

The end of year throw away list:

Orthodox -- Amenecer en Puerto Oscura -- Made the mistake of reviewing this band one time. Portuguese doom metal that sounds like the same song was recorded over and over in a shed, pretending to be jazz-arty and multi-layered.

Quips -- Take Two -- "Recommended if you like Queens of the Stone Age and The Beatles," reads the promotional material. Sure. Did John, Paul, George and Ringo sing flat a lot and play slow and lurching hard rock?

Rosetta -- Wake/Lift -- "Their ballistic uniqueness is devilishly abrasive," writes someone who ought not to for a magazine called Decibel. "You'd be a fool not to believe." Call me a fool then.

Long Distance Calling -- Satellite Day -- Has someone in the band named Reimut von Bonn who is responsible for "ambience." "The sole lyric on the album was created and performed by Peter Dolving and it will make you wince like being warned of something really big," claim Long Distance Calling. Quite so. It made me wince.

Magnet School -- Tonight -- Publishing company called Exploded Hooker Music.

Dyse -- s/t -- "[Our] music crosses boundaries and provokes terror ..." Why aren't you working for al Qaeda, then?

Intronaut -- The Challenger -- This band does a song about living in a British tank but you can't tell unless you read the lyric sheet.

V:28 -- Violution -- Norwegian industrial death metal band whose ambition is to be hit by a roadside bomb. First song sounds like they stole the background music from the computer game DEFCON for about thirty seconds of material.

Acidpain -- The Switch to Turn Off Mankind -- Hardcore punk band whose ambition is to be hit by a roadside bomb. Innovation: Printed the lyrics to their CD in black on a black piece of paper.

Die! Die! Die! -- s/t -- I made the mistake of writing about this band one time. From New Zealand, they're every bit as bad as their name suggests they want you to think they are.

Havoc Unit -- Umoral -- German industrial metal band whose ambition is to be targeted by American MLRS artillery.

Oren Ambarchi -- In the Pendulum's Embrace -- Came with a postcard-sized photo of artist stroking his chin.

End Of Level Boss -- Inside the Difference Engine -- "[This new] album will show this is a band that no one inside the global rock world can escape," they write. An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure, someone once said.

Wildildlife -- six -- Innovation: Put band name only on spine of CD folder in very small print. For fans of Pink Floyd who hated the lyrics, singing, melodies and other stuff.

The Mercury Seed -- Throwing Rocks at the Sun -- For rock fans who secretly thought Eddie Lives, the sequel to Eddie & the Cruisers, was the better of the two movies. I must embrrassingly confess to liking this one a little bit.

Souvenir's Young America -- An Ocean Without Water Answers the question no one thought to ask: "What would it sound like to trudge across an ocean without water?"

The Fucking Wrath -- Season of Evil -- Band name immediately guaranteed entry into the fool's hall of fame.

The Milwaukees -- American Anthems, Vol. 1 -- Have one song called "American Girl" and it's not by Tom Petty. When you skip to it out of curiosity, it's no good. Head guy is named "Dylan St. Clark" who sings "Everone wants to be rich and famous now" with a girl singing "yeah-yeah-yeahs" in the background on the song "Rich & Famous." So aspiring and heart-on-sleeve heartland it shoulda been a contender, struggling up bleeding and bruised from the arena floor while the super spotlights pan over the audience. Last song, "Marigold," out sob-rocks about half of Sugarland's "Enjoy the Ride." Actually, I'm keeping this.

Letter to the editor.
SLUDGE IN THE 70s: The Other Side, Minersville's finest rock band, ever

Sons of the coal country furnish high energy rock action at smallish ski resort. Watch out Detroit!

Being about Schuylkill County's best rock 'n' roll band in the Seventies ought to count for something, don't you think?

Arrival in the mail of The Other Side's Anthology, fresh out of CDBaby jolted the memory of the county's early Seventies rock scene.

Yes, indeed, it had one!

Naturally, its staple was cover bands playing high schools, firehouses, parks and a surprising number of nightclubs, most which had passed into extinction by the late Seventies.

The Other Side were a frequent presence in Schuylkill County. If you lived in Schuylkill County in the early Seventies, they were impossible to miss. Anthology collects a good cross-section of their music from the time.

The Other Side's biography, included with the CD and reprinted on the band's website, outlines a bewildering history of members, difficult to follow but not unexpected for any hard-working band that hung in there as long as it did. The biographer indicates The Other Side's high water mark came in 1977 when De-Lite, Kool & the Gang's label, then brimming with success from that band's presence on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, issued the band's only album, Rock X-Ing, meant to read "rock crossing."

Personally, I prefer pronouncing it phonetically -- Rock Eksing. This gives it just a little more posthumous distinction in 2007.

Rock X-ing kicked off with "Lies," a decent interpretation of The Knickerbocker's single. Styx had done the song three years earlier on its Man of Miracles album and The Other Side adopts that band's style. Cross-pollination of ideas was common. If you heard a good song on someone else's record, there was no sin in co-opting it.

The other immediately recognizable pop hit -- and DD uses the term generously -- was "Ghenghis Chicken." "Genghis Chicken" was rollicking hillbilly rock, fusing a honkytonk beat and handclaps to autobiographical lyrics about a band of the same name: "They come from miles around to hear us play our tunes and make fools of ourselves." "Hey, turn it down!" shouts someone in the background.

The CD booklet comes with photos of The Other Side performing in various Schuylkill County venues. DD could be wrong but one appears to be inside the old Minersville High School, or was it in Shenandoah? By the mid-Seventies, The Other Side's lead singer had sprouted a Rob Tyner-like 'fro and a number of the band's tunes put the heavy soul into hard rock, a style driven into the mainstream by much better known Detroit bands.

For example, The Other Side's "Walkin' the Dog" could pass for anything done by Grand Funk Railroad's between Footstompin' Music and We're an American Band. Anthology's last cut, a cover of The Rolling Stone's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" segues unexpectedly into War's "Cisco Kid" before a rousing finish.

However, The Other Side's most distinctive sound was delivered around 1969-1972.

Sometime around then DD saw them flashing Flying V guitars at a Pine Grove High School dance. The amps were loud, the delivery British white boy. This was a style you could get away with locally only until about '74 when the high school and diminishing club circuit began demanding less heavy music. By the late Seventies, disco had almost totally killed it off in the dance clubs of eastern Pennsylvania. Pure and violent hard rock retreated to the dives where bands could barely make more money than the drink tab.

"Writing On the Wall" is the showcase tune, a '69 number from the album Bang, Bang -- You're Terry Reid, the latter a singer who turned down the job of being front man for Led Zeppelin. Well, at the time it seemed like the right move...

The Other Side give "Writing On the Wall" a full and flowery Mickie Most arrangement. With pumping bass and stabbing organ, it's a psychedelic period piece taken over the top by a wailing, lugubrious vocal and fuzzy guitar. "Tramp" -- from 1972 -- furnishes another slice of fiery hard rock, contemporaneous with what was coming from the Motor City.

For fans of this type of rock music, the well of Seventies also-rans is virtually bottomless. Once out of New York City or LA and into the vast spaces in between, every county had their own. Although you might have been too close to the local action to know the boys for what they were, other than the guys at the carnival dance on Greenwood Hill, greasy album-ready hard rock bands, fit to shove at mass audiences, were your neighbors.

Sludge in the 70's -- from the archive.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MISTRIAL DECLARED IN TERROR TRIAL OF LIBERTY CITY PATSIES: Half of jury declines to cooperate in frame job

"In a stinging defeat for the Bush administration, one of seven Miami men [Lyglenson Lemorin] accused of plotting to join forces with al-Qaeda to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower was acquitted Thursday, and the case against the rest ended in a hung jury," reported AP today.

"Federal prosecutor Richard Gregorie said the government planned to retry the six next year, and the judge said a new jury would be picked starting Jan. 7.

"The White House had seized on the case to illustrate the dangers of homegrown terrorism and trumpet the government's post-Sept. 11 success in infiltrating and smashing terrorism plots in their earliest stages ... The defense portrayed the seven men as hapless figures who were either manipulated and entrapped by the FBI or went along with the plot to con [an FBI informant named 'Mohammed'] out of $50,000.

"Outside the courtroom, jury foreman Jeff Agron said the group took four votes but was split roughly evenly between guilt and innocence for the other six men."

"Defense lawyers contended that the informant and an overzealous FBI were responsible for pushing the alleged conspiracy along," reported AP.

Another similar case involving an FBI informant of questionable character, an African American man accused of being a terrorist, and the scent of entrapment is the one unfolding against Hassan Abu-Jihaad, written of earlier here.

The Liberty City Seven case ends in a mistrial.
HEEVAHAVA FOR PRESIDENT: Vote for Mike Huckabee (continued)

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times registered its story on the "home schooler" voting bloc in Iowa and its enthusiasm for Mike Huckabee.

"Home schoolers" are truly progressive. They toss out a crappy public school system education for an equally crappy one adminstered by themselves.

"Rich Hekl ... and wife Barb of Johnson, Iowa, include Bible study in the home-schooling of their children," writes the Times under a photograph of the couple. "Their family is doing volunteer work for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher."

Onward steam the Times' reporters, brightly selling the virtue of Bible study and political campaigning over icky things like teaching science.

"As other [Republican] candidates have found over the years, homeschoolers' flexible schedules make them invaluable volunteers," reports the newspaper. "High school students can call a halt to calculus (Yeah, right, sure they teach calculus at home) to set up chairs for a town hall meeting or put off biology for a day to stick mailing labels on the latest campaign flyer."

"Parents often send their children to [canvas door-to-door], so the whole experience becomes part of their education, like a civics class come to life."

Almost sounds reasonable the way the Times reports it.

When DD went to public school in Pennsyltucky, students were taught civics in an absorbing class called Problems of Democracy. (Thanks Mr. Richard Wolfgang!)

Problems of Democracy was not a recruiting get-out-the-vote tool for Republicans. Diverting students from an hour or two of class a day for the Republican cause, even in almost hegemonically GOP Pine Grove, would have been verboten.

But the country has gone backward since 1972. In 1972, Pine Grove Area School District offered excellent education in science and math, too. It enthusiastically looked to send intellectually curious students on to further education in the sciences and health professions.

Oh, the inconvenience of public schooling, so inferior to home schooling now! Down with biology. Up with Bible study and knocking on doors for Republicans who support creationism in 2007-2008.

Times reporters embarrassed their newspaper badly with this story. It is a newspaper which, on its opinion page, has been touting a need for improvement in American civic life.

Earlier in the week an unbylined editorial noted American students were, as usual, dolts in math and science when compared with fellow students everywhere else in the western world. But they have high self-esteem. Though inferior, they think they are superior to those who know math and science better than them.

Although they're almost dead last in the world, "When asked to rate their own scientific abilities, they put themselves at the top with their better-educated peers."

While this is certainly not stop-the-presses news -- Americans are braggarts as well as science and math know-nothings -- it is the very definition of a heevahava. And it can be said that a healthy disrespect for scientific learning has been a bipartisan American social and cultural more since I entered graduate school.

Although such news immediately and universally gores the reputation of public education, it in no way contributes to home-schooling as a great alternative option. Home schooling, as simply an evangelical Christian excuse for dispensing with real science education, specifically biology (because it's inconvenient), in favor of a amateur-hour instruction and memorization of scripture, does not improve one's intellectual capacity.

"Make science part of the debate," asserted a LAT editorial by Lawrence Krauss and Chris Mooney two days later.

Although it did not mention Republicans directly, it was aimed squarely at their actions which, in the last eight years, have aggressively put ignorance ahead of science simply because science is inconvenient to their political agenda and irritating to evangelical Christians. The Republican Party has made an active disdain for science and learning part of the firm bedrock of its structure.

"Whether the issue is global warming, embryonic stem cell research, ballistic missile defense or the future of the world's oceans, the same bass line thumps in the background," starts the editorial. Note the slight dig at Mike the Heevahava, who plays bass and whose grasp of science is lacking.

"Sound political decision-making relies, more than ever before, on accurate scientific information ... Which means, in order to be a successful world leader today, a politician must have an effective means of accessing and applying the latest science."

The editorial writers pitch "a call for the current US presidential candidates to participate in a debate, or a series of debates, dedicated to issues in science and technology. More specifically, the candidates should answer questions about the environment, medicine and health, and science and technology policy."

"Science requires a willingness to reject conclusions once they're shown to be in error, and it demands all the data be considered, not just that which agrees with a priori opinions," write Krauss and Mooney.

And the exact opposite is what has characterized the GOP relationship with science for the last eight years. The great Republican Party, fighting for your inalienable right to be wrong on technical matters when they run contrary to your opinions.

Since having presidential candidates from any party engage in a debate centered on science and critical thinking is a great idea, naturally, it won't happen.

Can you imagine presidential candidates enduring a science quiz in America? Hah -- they'd sooner have an eye put out with a hot stickpin. Or more realistically, answer questions from an imbecile on YouTube asking if a candidate believes every word in the Bible.

For the Times and its Huckabee coverage, readers had page A22 idiotically telling them about the swell home-schoolers, passing by math and science for Bible study and hands-on Republican campaigning. And then on page A31: "US students performed below the average of 30 countries in science and well below the average in math."

"In Illinois, longtime Republican legislator Penny Pullen said an 11-year old home-schooled boy was her best precinct captain ever ..." continuing the war on the common sense of readers with the intelligence-insulting claim from someone pro home-schooling.

"Huckabee still on defensive over statements about AIDS," read a story just below "Home schoolers rally to Huckabee."

"Prominent conservative Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, took to the Internet and airwaves ... to defend Huckabee," reported the newspaper. "Perkins said the candidate was being asked about long ago statements about AIDS, homsexuality and morality because of his faith, and he predicted that more conservative religious voters would rally to Huckabee's side if the criticism continued."

And this takes us to the phenomenon in which Republican evangelicals take unpleasant facts and hard reality as attacks upon family values and their American way.

If a politician is excoriated for believing in creationism, the candidate is not showing ignorance. He is being attacked on family values and his Christian upbringing. If a candidate is ridiculed because he thinks that in 1992 scientists didn't understand how AIDS was transmitted and implies, in statements, that casual contact might have had something to do with the spread of the disease, these are not the utterances of someone showing themself to be woefully misinformed. It's an assault on values, specifically those which hold that gay people are sinful and immoral, and the Democrats and media -- secular and ungodly -- are behind the attacks.

Newspapers like the Times are ill-prepared to deal with this manner of political judo. They inevitably wind up taking a fall because the he said/she said copy-everything-down-and-even-if-it's-ridiculous-present-it-as-an-equal-argument model of journalism fails under these circumstances.

It is impossible for such journalists to call a dolt a dolt, even when the person is demonstrably so.

The best a reader can hope for is for someone else to be asked to proffer a statement, usually toned-down so that Republicans won't protest too strenuously that they're being persecuted unfairly with the facts.

"Jeane White-Ginder, [Ryan White's] mother, called [Mike Huckabee's] recent remarks alarming," wrote Times journalist Seema Mehta.

"It's very important to me that we don't live in the darkness."

On the Opinion page, the Times has also been running a series called "American Values and the Next President." It stands as a direct foil to the Republican and Fox News network's use of the term "family values" to define that which they think is right in Americans on their side and wrong with everyone else on the opposite side.

As diplomatically as possible, Times editorial writers have been rubbishing standard Republican values and philosophies as they have been practiced under the rule of George W. Bush.

Early in the week, the page stated that although it respected candidates of faith, it was wary "of candidates who seek favor and power by promising to magnify the power of religion in American law and life and to engraft religious precepts onto the Constitution," a now common Republican tactic.

Yesterday, it wrote: "The Republicans have a wide range of thought [on abortion]."

This was in contrast to Democrats, of whom it was said are more monolithic in their support of Roe v. Wade.

However, "Huckabee's position [which is for a national ban], which we oppose absolutely, nevertheless has the value of consistency."

Politely as possible, the Times in its definition of "American values," supports a presidential candidate who upholds Roe v. Wade.

Near the end of the piece, the Times unearths a fellow from the Bush Republican School of Ignorance, Leon Kass "who would serve as head of President Bush's Council on Bioethics" and hangs him with a short but priceless citation from the Seventies.

Kass was against in vitro fertilization, opines the newspaper, because he thought in 1972 "it could someday make mothers 'of single women, widows or lesbians.'"

Kevin Phillips, a well-known historian and former Republican strategist, wrote in his book, American Theocracy, that the "2004 election year saw the issuance of a statement on 'Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking' by [prominent scholars and Nobel laureates] which charged the administration with widespread and unprecedented 'manipulation of the process through which science enters into its decisions.'"

Phillips continued that "[in] Texas, where the cotton industry is plagued by a moth that has evolved immunity to pesticides, a frustrated entomologist commented that 'it's amazing the cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution ... These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution."

In the introduction to the book, Phillips noted "[the] Republican coalition's clash with science has seeded half a dozen controversies. These include Bible-based disbelief in Darwinian theories of evolution, dismissal of global warming, disagreement with geological explanations of fossil fuel depletion, religious rejection of global population planning, derogation of women's rights, opposition to stem cell research, and so on."

So what did Mike Huckabee, Mike the Heevahava, have to say for himself this week? We know he's slightly irritated that reporters keep bugging him about creationism and AIDS. And at a Republican debate yesterday he was "a passionate supporter" of having a couple subjects "in every school for every student."

Would those subjects be biology and math? Nope -- "music and art." You get 'em, Mr. Huckabee!

A doltish ignorance of science should certainly be no obstacle to becoming President, no sir! Our current sitting bull unequivocally shows the nation prospers in so many ways when ruled by an ignoramus.

Indeed, a couple hours after this post went to its final edition, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was reshowing the YouTube imbecile asking Republicans if they believed every word in the Bible.

This was part of a hard-to-decipher segment in which O'Reilly and Tony Snow predicted that American Christians, 225 million strong, would show their displeasure for any needling of the believers in Jesus in the mainstream media. A Republican President would win because the United States was a Christian nation founded on Christian principles and only the Republicans were focused on real issues, like terrorism, more war and cutting taxes. DD found it hard to understand but that's because he lives in California.

Immediately after followed a segment on the "war on Christmas" in which businesses which catered to the godless and secular by saying only "happy holidays" in their brochures and web advertising were named and shamed.

Late in the day we also learned that, as usual, the man in the White House will have to be waited out before there is even slightly meaningful action on global warming. The Republican leadership maintained its consistency, killing mandating limits because deep down inside it still doesn't believe in global warming, in spite of the scientific facts.

"[Former] Vice President Al Gore, addressing the delegates meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali, said the lack of firm targets [from the US] in the road map should not be a deal breaker," reported the LA Times. "Accusing the U.S. delegation of 'obstructing progress' on the climate talks, he said efforts should proceed with the expectation that a change in administration will bring a change in position.

"Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now," Gore said. "I must tell you candidly that I cannot promise that the person who is elected will have the position I expect they will have. But I can tell you I believe it is quite likely."

"The European Union threatened today to boycott President Bush's climate summit in Hawaii next month if the United States doesn't allow specific targets for carbon emission reduction to be included in a draft text being prepared at a summit here this week," reported the Times in the story's lede graf.

See here.

The Los Angeles Times' "American Values" series is here.

Make Science Part of the Debate by Krauss and Mooney.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


DD feels he knows Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee well. In Schuylkill County, part of Pennsylvania Dutchland, DD grew up with many Mike Huckabees. They were avuncular fellows and model citizens, always capable of good conversation.

They believed in all the stuff Mike Huckabee stands for in 2007 and which the Pine Grove Area School District used to try to educate OUT of its students in the early Seventies.

Like belief in creationism over evolution. In fact, creationism wasn't even on the ticket in the Seventies. PGAHS, much to the dismay of the general Schuylkill community ca. '70-'74 was proud of its science and math teachers. It did not fear reality.

"Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher who has surged in Iowa with evangelical Christian support, bristled Tuesday when asked if creationism should be taught in public schools," wrote the Associated Press recently.

"Huckabee — who raised his hand at a debate last May when asked which candidates disbelieved the theory of evolution — asked this time why there is such a fascination with his beliefs ... 'I believe God created the heavens and the Earth,' he said at a news conference with Iowa pastors who murmured, 'Amen.'"

Like the heevahavas of Schuylkill County, Mike Huckabee is also afraid of gay people and the fear has made him stupid and worthy of derision.

Here's Heevahava Mike, defending himself over his ignorance about the nature of AIDS:

"Responding to an Associated Press questionnaire, Huckabee said steps should be taken to 'isolate the carriers of this plague' during his failed run for a U.S. Senate seat from Arkansas 15 years ago."

"He said he probably would not make the same statement today because of what is known about how HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is transmitted.

" 'I had simply made the point -- and I still believe this today -- that in the late '80s and early '90s, when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted,' " Huckabee told Fox News Sunday.

In 1992 the transmission of AIDS was very well understood. And very early in the epidemic it was also understood, by doctors and scientists, that AIDS was definitely not transmitted by casual contact.

Mike Huckabee also energizes and inspires "home schoolers" in Iowa, the Des Moines Register informs.

DD understands "home schoolers" to be polite code for an aggressively ignorant collection of evangelical Christians who decry crappy public school education for their children. Their solution: A differently-flavored, but still crappy, home education, taught by amateurs -- themselves, for the sake of getting rid of pesky biology in favor of rote memorization of scripture and the tenets of creationism.

They're also part of the demographic of bigots marshalled by the reliable Republican gay-people-are-subverting-the-wholesome-American-family political rallying cry.

"Thousands of evangelical Christians who school their children at home have found a candidate they can support in Huckabee, and they provide the former Arkansas governor's outsider campaign with hundreds of volunteers," wrote the Des Moines newspaper.

"Although not monolithic, home-schooling Republicans are united by core principles, especially their rejection of public schools in favor of their own religious-based teaching."

In today's Los Angeles Times, Huckabee was described as warming to the Republican human value which requires one to profess to being as radical as possible with regards to treatment of the current scapegoat of choice -- the illegal immigrant.

Huckabee, reported the Times, wants all illegals to register with the government and leave for their native countries in four months. "Those who don't, when caught, would be barred from reentry to the US for ten years," reported the newspaper.

"[Huckabee] said raiding a business employing 'vast amounts' of illegal workers was a 'legitimate thing to do' as long as local officials knew in advance." The Times headline seems to tweak Huckabee in the paper edition, with the story on him entitled on page A20 as "The Huckabee Evolution."

The term "heevahava" is an older insult from deep in the heart of the Pennsy Dutch country. DD put it into occasional use on the Internet sometime in the early-90's in the Crypt Newsletter. It was used to name a computer virus and the source code of the original explained its vulgar meaning.

My definition found its way into the Urban Dictionary here which simply repeats something I told Wired back in 2003. And here is a more recent usage of the term from Pennsylvania.

Entry from GlobalSecurity.Org in which DD describes the origins of Crypt Newsletter.

The insult could be used with nuance, to indicate someone who was much more than your average dolt, just like Mike Huckabee.

Pennsy Dutch dolts -- heevahavas -- could be very likeable and by all accounts Mike Huckabee is an amiable man, too. He is certainly someone you could trust to feed your pets while you're away for the weekend. On the other hand, he is also a singularly wretched and reactionary potential choice for President. But by being this he must also surely represent a good portion of the country. DD would think Huckabee would be very well thought of in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania. Perhaps these factors are why our political journalists like him and why his polling numbers seem strong.

Heevahava for President, the second absorbing installment.

Coincidentally, DD faintly knew another creationist, Michael Behe of Lehigh University.

Behe is a proponent of intelligent design and was a so-called star witness in Kitzmiller v. the Dover School District. Parents in the Dover school district, near York in Pennsylvania, sued it for presenting "Intelligent Design" as an alternative to evolution.

A judge ruled the Dover school district's actions unconstitutional. The teaching of intelligent design -- creationism -- as science, was forbidden. School board members responsible for the curiculum change allowing the teaching of intelligent design were subsequently thrown out of office.

Since then, it has been mostly downhill for Behe and intelligent design. Demolished by the judge in the Kitzmiller case, his last book -- The Edge of Evolution -- was treated very harshly by reviewers.

However, it was not always this way.

When Behe arrived at the Department of Chemistry at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, in 1985, he was highly regarded. His interest was in the study of Z-DNA.

DD's old Ph.D. advisor was on the search committee and often seemed happy and relieved that the department had been able to add another young up-and-coming scientist to its roster of academic talent.

In an alumni bulletin from 1996 or so, the head of the department spoke effusively of Behe's first book, Darwin's Black Box, which had just made it into bestseller lists.

Of course, few at Lehigh seemed to have actually read it at the time because it wasn't until slightly later, when Behe became the go-to guy for the intelligent design movement, that faculty members started to realize the school's reputation in science had developed a kink.

By then Behe already had tenure.

Lehigh's formal position on intelligent design/creationism as espoused by its Department of Biological Sciences.

I bet they'll always be angry at the Department of Chemistry.

Monday, December 10, 2007


"Over the next two days, we will deal with a worst-case scenario of global proportion: terrorists that produce large amounts of a deadly bacteria — plague — and disseminate it using hundreds of simple horns, the kind that children use at sporting events," claimed Interpol's Ron K. Noble, at a tabletop exercise designed to show capabilities in Bioterrorism. Held over fine food and canapes at the Hilton in Lyon, France, see here.

"The attack itself is not particularly sophisticated," Noble continues. "It does not rely on advanced scientific expertise, large amounts of money, or elaborate laboratories. This is the truly frightening aspect of bioterrorism – it is the perfect storm of opportunity and motivation. Using disease, terrorists can substantially multiply the devastation and societal disruption that they cause, and they can do it without sophisticated infrastructure or state support.

For this very reason, we would be mistaken to treat a worst-case scenario as a remote possibility. Instead, we must deal with this as an eventuality for which we need to be prepared. In a movie that I recently saw there was the line: 'Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.' That expression fits our work in the area of Bioterrorism Prevention."

Thus goes the variation on the recurrent meme of "It's easy for terrorists to [fill in the blank.] For a host of variations and repetitions see here.

Tabletop bioterror exercises have a history of being cooked-up frauds, at least in the United States.

Two US bioterror exercises known as Top Off 2 and Top Off 3, massaged facts to achieve catastrophic results in tabletop gaming with plague, or the Black Death, as a terrorist agent of choice.

"[The] US and UK BW programs prior to 1969 both failed in attempts to weaponize and aerosolize the agent that produces plague, (although the USSR did succeed in that during the 1980s)," wrote bioweapons expert Milton Leitenberg in 2004.

"In the two Top Off exercises, how was a 'terrorist' non-state actor group able to achieve the aerosolization of an agent that US and UK [biowarfare] programs staffed by competent researchers with a decade of effort were not able to achieve?" continued Leitenberg. "And, according to experienced US researchers, prior to reaching the stage of aerosolization P. pestis is a 'difficult' agent to work with in the laboratory, 'finicky' and 'fastidious.' "

The same year, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow, also wrote, alongside Leitenberg, on the assumption that the Black Death was easy to make into a bioweapon.

"Further perspective may be discerned from the recent trial of plague expert Dr. Thomas Butler," it was written. "Butler's substantial professional career and life were ruined as a by-product of the U.S. government's obsession with bioterrorism. A colleague of Butler's, Dr. Thomas Lehman, writes on the Federation of American Scientists' website:
"During Dr. Butler's sentencing hearing I learned some other little known facts about 'the plague.' Did you know that our own government worked for twenty years or more on methods to 'weaponize' plague bacteria? What did they find? They couldn't do it! It turns out the plague bacteria are remarkably fragile organisms, and no ready means could be found to disperse and infect people with it easily ..."

See the comments from Leitenberg and myself here and here at the Federation of American Scientists.

So when Ronald K. Noble of Interpol says that engineering a recurrence of the Black Death "does not rely on advanced scientific expertise," he's either fibbing or speaking without knowing the facts for the sake of some scary publicity.

In any case, fabricating doom scenarios, telling people they're likely to happen and massaging facts to posit a man-made resurgence of the Black Death is a tradition started by the American government. It now appears to be one also practiced by British and miscellaneous Euro-security men.

The Register was the first to comment on this event here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

HUM JOB: Jack White's tips for tools

Hopes to be picked up by motorcycle gangsters.

This week's dose of rock star coddling comes courtesy of Richard Cromelin and the LA Times' Calendar section in a story entitled, "Jack White's energy plant is humming."

And it certainly is a hum job, informing readers that Jack White is better than you at everything from taking pictures and making cameras to going to the hardware store to buy a saw. Filled with witless descriptions and meaningless bromides (uttered by White), it's a perfect example of why no one who isn't on the payroll takes music journalism seriously.

DD has chopped and screwed the essence of it. Which parts are inserted ad-libs? Which parts are direct copy?

Pfft, he was gone

Jack White resembles one of those improbable characters from a Coen brothers movie as he leans against his late-50's Ford Thunderbird, dressed in red and black, popping bennies and holding a hard shell camera case.

Like a mysterious fop, he walks across the steakhouse parking lot in the bright autumn sun. He leaves his thin cigar on a low wall -- that's littering -- and steps into the restaurant's bar, at ease among the midafternoon regulars even though he stands out like a toucan in a chicken coop.

"You see this ... This is my camera ... It's a very excellent camera," White says as he extracts its parts one after another and lays them on the table. Boxes of peppermint pattern filters, a fisheye lens, a roll of film, a manual with a camera-headed monkey on the cover! And the centerpiece, a customized White Stripes model of the cheap plastic 80's vintage Holga camera, in red and white!

There's a Meg camera, too, also in red and white for White Stripes drummer Meg White.

Jack White takes pictures of the waitress, exclaiming wildly, "You have no idea what that was going to turn out like!"

"Was I even aiming it right? I cut off the top of her head here, but we got the drinks. I need something calm me down, take off the edge. So good things are coming out of that. It's a different camera world. It's got its pluses, too, no doubt. But I like the idea of pushing yourself, not making it easier on yourself."

"This is not making it easier on yourself, this is making you work, and when you work, something good is going to happen," concludes White, his teeth chattering ever so slightly.

The room is getting noisier as more locals drift in and start talking about SEC football. White, his expression alert and inquisitive under the brim of his black hat, glances at the bar as he again begins putting together and taking apart his camera.

"I really like the idea of collaborating," he says, as a piece of the camera rolls across the table. "You really get something out of it. I'm sure out conversation would be different if we were the only people in this room. These people right here are inadvertently pushing us to react with one another differently and say things differently, and the volume we're speaking at is determined by these people here and nobody even knows it. It's a collaboration."

A number of Stripes new songs will come out on three 7-inch discs Dec. 18, two of them paired with the Icky Thump track "Conquest."

"I See Said the Blind Man As He Picked Up His Hammer and Saw," "Honey We Can't Afford to Look This Cheap," "If You Could Afford a House Like That You'd Buy a House Like That," and "Pfft You Were Gone" touch on the Stripes' country/folk side rather than their aggressive garage rock identity, but they will come as a reassuring sign of life for White Stripes fans unsure about the band's future.

Must buy saw

White's glass is now empty as he reaches into a pocket and tosses a piece of lint under the table. The camera is back in its box. He's sitting still but seems to be humming with energy, like a gyroscope that stays upright by perpetually spinning. The motion might be a little erratic, but it's better than stopping and falling over. Or slowly running down.

"I'm going to buy a saw today, that's why I got to go," says White. "Because we're meeting somebody and we're going to buy a saw, and I have to get the right one that's going to push me harder. If you don't get the right saw for the right job, you could wind up just a lazy bum and nothing good will happen."

Indeed Grasshopper, the Chinee soul is everywhere, from the bowl of humble dogfood to the tubes of light we call the internets. -- Master Po

"A cyber attack reported last week by one of the federal government’s nuclear weapons laboratories may have originated in China, according to a confidential memorandum distributed Wednesday to public and private security officials by the Department of Homeland Security," reported John Markoff at the New York Times today.

"Security researchers said the memorandum, which was obtained by The New York Times from an executive at a private company, included a list of Web and Internet addresses that were linked to locations in China. However, they noted that such links did not prove that the Chinese government or Chinese citizens were involved in the attacks. In the past, intruders have compromised computers in China and then used them to disguise their true location."

Long-time cynics observers of the world of computer security know this is how news of cyber-attacks on the US always starts. Someone at a computer security company, hoping to get their name and their company into a newspaper, leaks material on so-called cyberwars happening under our noses. Creeping ever closer, the nefarious Chinese threaten and menace ... causing a quick turn of the page to the "Arts" section.

Uggh, glad that was short.

We learned to ignore it all some time ago and even to make fun of it at VMYTHS.COM where the Chinese were regularly in the computer press so much as the culprits behind cyberwar we made a joke of it, referring to them as "the Chinee."

We can review the menace posed by the righteous striking fists of Chinee cyberwarrriors here and here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

BIOTERROR GOLD RUSH: Still good opportunity for quacks

If you follow press releases from universities and the private sector, the bioterror defense boom in the United States is is built upon the simple pursuit of grants - free money.

The promoters of the boom brush aside criticisms that it is an overreaction in the war on terror or a bald-faced money grab. "[The] consensus of 16 intelligence agencies is that there is a high level of threat from an attack," Ronald Kendall, a scientist at Texas Tech and promoter of the boom, told one newspaper recently.

One conclusion to be drawn from the anti-terror gold rush is that the pure expansion in number of labs handling agents of interest to bioterrorists will (1), expose more lab workers to their potential for serious infection, and: (2) increase the profile and number of repositories from which the agents can be diverted by insiders. The additional risk of a boffin within the biodefense academy going to the dark side cannot be estimated with any certainty, although it is not a zero chance.

Another aspect of the biodefense boom not often discussed is that some of the investments are simply poor ones or the bankrolling of junky science.

DD goes into these issues at el Reg here.

This week, a spurt of news stories on a miracle cure for bioterror made the rounds. It was spun off a press release emitted by a scientific meeting the previous week and was not the result of an article in any prestigious medical journal for peer-reviewed science.

Readers unfamiliar with annual scientific meetings should know that one can say, present or post anything at them. They are venues for works-in-progress and do not constitute peer-reviewed science. More appropriately, they can be seen as junkets, opportunities to network and meet old aquaintances, and places for showing off to science journalists who flock to them for material.

"Mention inhalers and most people think of asthma, but new research shows that inhalers could become infection-fighting, lifesaving gear for firemen, emergency workers and other first responders," reported AP on the new potential miracle cure for bioterror.

"They could also help protect people whose immune systems are weakened by chemotherapy or HIV, according to scientists who've tested the new inhaler in mice."

" 'We showed we can protect mice against all four major classes of pathogens: Gram positive bacteria, Gram negative bacteria, fungus and virus," one scientist -- Brenton Scott, a post-doctoral fellow in the pulmonary medicine department of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"His team was slated to present its findings Monday at the American Society for Cell Biology's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.," reported AP.

"The team exposed mice to an aerosolized formulation called Aerosolized Lung Innate Immune Stimulant (ALIIS), a soluble bacterial extract ... untreated mice all died of [infections], but 83 percent of the mice that were exposed two hours following treatment survived, as did 100 percent of mice exposed between four and 24 hours later. Protection lasted as long as five days ... and was also effective against a broad range of pathogens, including the bacteria responsible for anthrax, plague, tularemia, the fungus Aspergillus and influenza virus.

"According to Scott, this broad-spectrum protection means ALIIS could potentially be used by first responders in the event of a bioterror attack.

"But Steven Mizel, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Wake Forest University Health Sciences in Winston-Salem, NC, was skeptical."

Readers unfamiliar with the science of medical research may not know the old joke between boffins that "everything works in mice."

Other alarm bells are that the new potential patent medicine works against everything. If this were really to be true, it would be nothing less than a revolution in fighting infectious disease. All a person would have to do before going out in the winter would be to puff on his miracle inhaler and the common cold, flu -- all kaput, like bugs splattering on your car's windshield during the summer.

So the world changed at a scientific meeting in DC and you missed it. Or not.

A good deal of the interest coming from the US government and military is for miracle cures. Both agencies want simple inhalable cures that protect against everything. Surveys of the patent database for applications related to cures for bioterror show the trend fairly plainly.

The wish is crazy -- indeed, it's a good marking symptom of bad or junk science -- but it also leaves quite an opening for boffins to promise very big things.

Since the expansion in bioterror defense spending five years ago, little -- if anything -- of general benefit to the health of Americans has resulted. If you don't have health insurance or are now uninsurable because of a pre-existing condition, rest assured no expense is being spared to protect you from bioterrorism. Your heart will also be warmed by assurances that biodefense research always promises cures and new knowledge with broad applications in public health.

This month's bioterror miracle cure here.

Another miraculous bioterror cure which purifies the blood. Yeah, right.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


[Hubcosby] at Yahoo writes:

Wants Dhiren Barot c/o Belmarsh, Thamesmead, London.

If you don't get the somewhat 'in' nature of the joke and have time for a read, see here and here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

ABUJIHAAD DEFENSE FILES MOTION TO DISCLOSE: Wiretapping by government under FISA court order

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow has uploaded a copy of a motion to disclose recently filed by the lawyer of Hassan Abujihaad [or Abu-Jihaad], a man accused by the government in a terror trial just beginning to unfold in Connecticut.

The original accusations against Hassan Abujihaad stem from e-mails the ex-Navy signalman made while serving aboard the destroyer Benfold in 2001. They eventually resulted in an indictment on terror charges discussed last week on this blog and in other publications.

The US government has slowly nursed the Abujihaad case, employing an informant who was many things: a common law polygamist as well as an ex-felon and former gang-member.

The charges against Abujihaad stem from 2001 when the defendant corresponded by e-mail with Babar Ahmad of Azzam Publications in London. A sailor aboard the US Navy's Benfold, Abujihaad ordered videotapes of Azzam and tipped the agency five dollars when informed he had overpaid for his purchases by the same amount. In that period of time he also forwarded rough information on the passage of his surface action group through the Straits of Hormuz to Azzam.

The substance of it is discussed here and Abujihaad's e-mails and correspondence with Azzam can be downloaded from this blog.

In a startling development, one not mentioned by the regular media correspondents covering the Abujihaad case, a "Motion for disclosure of FISA applications and orders and for hearing on adversary on motion to suppress" was filed today on PACER.

"[Defendant] Hassan Abu-Jihaad hereby moves for the disclosure of papers submitted by the government and all court orders pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," reads the motion. "Defendant also requests that the court conduct an adversary hearing to determine the issues raised by the defendant's Motion to Suppress FISA Derived Evidence."

Abu-Jihaad's representation writes "[the defendant] is accused in a two count indictment of Providing Material Support to Terrorists ... and of Communicating National Defense Information to Persons Not Entitled to Receive It..."

"On or about October 29, 2007 the government filed an amended notice of intention to use [FISA] information ... The amended notice indicates that the government intends to use FISA derived evidence at pretrial hearings, the trial and other related proceedings in this case."

Abu-jihaad's defense asks the court the disclose the FISA derived evidence the government intends to introduce.

"Defense counsel do not have access to the affidavits and other papers which the government may have submitted to the [FISA court] or any of the orders issued by the [FISA Court] authorizing the electronic surveillance [of Abu-Jihaad] ... As a result defense counsel are left to guess about what information might have been presented to the [FISA Court] and what arguments might appropriately be made in support of the motion to suppress."

The Abu-Jihaad case is a terror trial in which the government's use or misuse of electronic surveillance on a US citizen becomes a key issue.

"The motion to suppress raises substantial questions about the legality of the government's use of FISA orders in the unique circumstances in this case," writes Abu-jihaad's defense.

"Particularly with respect to the probable cause determination that the defendant was acting as an 'agent of a foreign power' when the FISA applications were made in 2006 ... "

"In response to the instant application, the defense anticipates that the government may file an affidavit certifying that disclosure of the FISA application 'would harm the national security of the United States.' The court should look askance at such a submission ... The only criminal charges filed against the defendant relate to conduct which allegedly occured in the Spring of 2001. The government has been actively investigating the defendant since 2004. Based upon the testimony of Special Agent David Dillon at the court hearing on November 28th, it is clear the government had been conducting physical surveillance and electronic surveillance against the defendant since the beginning of 2004 and has enlisted at least one cooperating witness to befriend the defendant in an effort to elicit incriminating statements from him. It is safe to assume that the government has probably used every investigative tool available to it in an effort to build a case against the defendant. The end result of the investigation ... is the same set of e-mail communications which the defendant sent to Azzam Publications in 2001 and which the government has known about since early 2004, and the uncorroborated hearsay ramblings of Derrick Shareef uttered in 2006 regarding some half-baked notion to attack military installations. There is absolutely no evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement with any 'foreign power' beyond the e-mail communications sent to Azzam Publications in 2001, there is no credible evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement in any ongoing conspiracy in 2006 and Mr. Abu-Jihaad himself has been in custody since March 2007. This is not a situation where the government is conducting an ongoing investigation which is generating 'foreign intelligence information' or other evidence of a plot to harm national security. In this context, the government cannot make a good faith showing that disclosure of pertinents parts of the FISA applications and orders would 'harm the national security of the United States.'"

The Abu-Jihaad case is a complicated one because the original accusations stretch back to actions which took place in 2001. It would seem fairly obvious that one of the original counts, providing material support to terrorists, is extremely thin. It is based upon Abu-Jihaad purchasing a couple of videotapes, the sale of which was not illegal in the United Kingdom at the time, and his overpayment of Azzam to the tune of the princely sum of five dollars USD.

So far, the pattern seems to indicate that the government is seeking to employ secret evidence in an effort to bolster the case against Abu-Jihaad, evidence it may realize was obtained outside the spirit of the law but done anyway, as things have been, for the sake of the war on terror. This suspicion is somewhat strengthened by a pattern in which the government has anonymously leaked insinuations that it has much greater evidence against the defendant to reporters covering the case.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported the following, furnished by a leaker representing the government: "Prosecutors acknowledged that in several [wiretapped] calls, the informant appears to be initiating efforts to proceed with the plot and to buy weapons ... 'But that's not the only evidence the government has,' said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case."

Motion to disclose FISA orders in case of USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad. (pdf)

WinterPatriot has assembled a thorough piece on FBI informant William Chrisman, an unsavory creep/ex-con and crack dealer, now refashioned as an alleged patriot with "three wives," enlisted by lawmen to help in the war on terror. Chrisman's picture was published in a Connecticut newspaper. WP's blog reposts it in fine fashion after the MSM publication attempted a retraction. Read WP's research on Chrisman here.

"While [Hassan Abu-Jihaad] awaits his fate, [FBI informant William Chrisman] admitted during the hearing that his efforts to find a fourth wife didn't work out when the woman found out [he already had] three [in some kind of weird common law dodge which apparently some in law enforcement and journalism don't find profoundly creepy and f---ed]," reported Associated Press, sometime last week.

Update: (January 2008):

Ramblings of idiot dude and informant in government surveillance edit.

Rambling of idiot dude ruled inadmissable in Abu-jihaad pre-trial.

From last week: Government nurses terror case.

Loose mouth and loose change -- Hassan Abu-Jihaad and Azzam Publications.
SLUDGE IN THE 70s: Natural Gas, the homeless man's Badfinger

Stubbornly resisted easy enjoyment.

Again, DD refreshes readers with tales of the cannon fodder used in a late-Eighties weekly college radio show at Lehigh University called "Sludge in the '70's." It was classic hard rock but my definition of the genre wasn't "classic rock FM." It was devoted to hard rock acts which had little or no hope of headlining arenas but which were still quite capable of making enjoyable albums.

This was the primary stuff of my record collection, most of which would eventually be tossed in a landfill by my so-called mother when she lost her mind for good and I wasn't around to oppose her.

Since I was doing a sonic history for the show it was par for the course to play quite a few lemons.

Natural Gas, a collection of British hacks from other more famous acts were hand-picked for the show.

The band consisted of Joey Molland, a guitarist in Badfinger, the famous Beatles-influenced pop act which collapsed after the suicide of its primary songwriter. Mark Clarke, a sideman bass player best known for playing in Uriah Heep ca. '71-72, was claimed by promotional material to be another name, along with Jerry Shirley, the drummer from Humble Pie.

Issued in 1975 on Private Stock, Natural Gas's only album aimed vaguely at being a harder-sounding version of Badfinger. This strategy was undone by a shortage of memorable songs and tempos which almost never rose above medium plod.

The one exception is the last tune on the record, an original called "St. Louis Blues."

Mostly unbluesy, "St. Louis Blues" is a stab at something uptempo and funky by guys whose heart's probably weren't in it. "Won't you listen, won't you listen, won't you listen to my story?" the Natural Gassers sing in unison as the song fades and the needle lifts from the vinyl.

Everyone declined that request.

And this was probably why Peter Frampton took them on tour as opener around the time he became super famous. There was zero chance Natural Gas were going to get lucky and blow wimpy Pete and his ten minute talk-box guitar solos off the stage on any night of the tour. Even if he had a sore on his lip from overusing that plastic tube dingus.

DD remembers getting the album in the mid-Seventies, sometime when the sun was shining, making inexplicable a tune called "The Christmas Song," written by Joey Molland.

Because it was my radio show, it was necessary to salvage something from Natural Gas and "I've Been Waiting," a serviceable slice of British white-boy guitar boogie not recommended for airplay by the label was the number I went with. Played loud as a single, it makes the listener think Natural Gas were an order of magnitude better than the case argued by the entire album.

Seventies Brit rock purists who hunt down the record will hear some Badfinger in the vocals, primarily sung by Molland. But the rest of the LP, while short, stubbornly resists any easy enjoyment.

Since Crazy Mom had thrown out my original copy, I was able to replace Natural Gas this week with a used piece from a record store on Colorado Street across from the Pasadena City College library. For you bargain hunters noting the sticker price in the upper corner of the sleeve, that's about two bucks too much, at least, for a copy in good condition.

Previously, on Sludge in the 70's.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Oooh, gas is cheaper in China! Look at those donkey carts I passed by on my high-end motorcycle tour of the Silk Route. Get out of the way, beep-beep!

The Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed page is fond of lecturing readers on how the nation must go green. It's a laughable practice in southern California where almost no one practices green living. The small number who insist they do are liars.

Pasadena, where DD lives, is under a perpetual layer of smog, smoke and grit from the superhighway that bisects it. It's the motorway you see when you watch football games in the Rose Bowl and the camera on the Goodyear blimp pans back to show the city.

Even when the sky looks clear in Pasadena, it's not. DD sunburns easily and for the last twelve years it's been impossible to burn the top of my head, no matter the time of season or how long I stand in the backyard. The compounds and particulates in the smog pillar over the city filter out all the burning ultraviolet.

In Santa Barbara, where there is no noticeable smog pillar, the top of my head is toast in about fifteen minutes on a typical sunny day.

Conservation -- and using less gasoline -- are alien concepts in soCal. There's a Hummer dealer on Colorado and Pasadena could be the SUV capitol of the world. If gasoline costs $3.50 a gallon citizens just put it on their credit cards and pile up the debt.

Yet the Times persists. It's a good newspaper and its editors mean well. They just can't effect change, particularly when there's a growing trend within the publication to pander to the conspicuous consumer and the arch snob.

While the Times is hiring Middle Eastern reporters to cover a dangerous beat in Iraq, where there's real news to be reported, it also provides a home for pantywaists whose idea of work is touring, vacationing and sight-seeing on only the biggest, fastest most expensive motorcycles made in the world.

That'd be Susan Carpenter, whose weekly column goes on about superbikes, breaking the speed limit on them and other riffs on the theme. When she's not writing about breaking the speed limit and leaning into the turn on her superbike, she's reviewing the the weirdest variations on them, like a Russian Army-built one that comes with a sidecar, also unaffordable. When she reviews a motorized bicycle, one supposedly chosen to show how you can get around on the cheap, it's the one few can afford or would consider buying because its expense renders moot the point of acquiring it.

Last week, Carpenter stretched a high-priced ugly American/European-custom road tour of an impoverished section of China along the old Silk Route into two pieces for the Times.

Of course, Carpenter's picture gets in the newspaper, as it does almost every week, because editors must feel she is very dashing in motorcycle wear. This is in contrast to Times Iraqi Baghdad bureau reporters who never get their pics in the newspaper, alas, because they'd be kidnapped, shot or bombed and they're not so dashing-looking, probably.

No surprise, the Silk Route highway is empty for Carpenter and her tourmates because most of the locals are too busy scrabbling out a subsistence living to afford driving on it.

And gas is cheaper in China than southern California! Imagine that!

The main hazards on the Silk Route highway, we are informed, are "packs of animals and stacks of rocks. In rural areas, you never knew when you would round a corner and need to slow for yaks or goats."

"[There's] never a line at the pump because so few people drive in the remote and impoverished outskirts of Xinjiang province."

Monday, December 03, 2007

BUY BIODEFENSE STOCK: Emergent attractive to carpetbaggers

Emergent, the company fomerly known as Bioport, and responsible for making the country's supply of anthrax vaccine, has been touted as an attractive stock to invest in for speculating carpetbaggers looking to share some biodefense industry profits.

The company's stock is not quite worthless, but it's close, and a columnist at the Motley Fool boosted it in an on-line article aimed at speculators looking to pick up some possible future value on the cheap.

"[Savvy] investors have a chance to 'get greedy' and snap up some bargains from these fearful sellers -- if bargains they truly be," it is said. "Investors aren't seeing a whole lot of bargains this week, but one stock they do like is Emergent BioSolutions ... Emergent's stock lost nearly half its value after reporting a steep earnings decline earlier this month. Yet, as unusual as it is for a micro-cap biotech, the company does (and did) earn a profit from its business manufacturing biological-warfare vaccines for the government."

Known as BioPort back in the day, that company bought an old Michigan firm that produced the country's supply of anthrax and rabies vaccine. The anthrax vaccine had formerly been produced by the state of Michigan and was an old product, certified around 1970 for use in people most likely to be exposed to anthrax: veterinarians, wool-sorters, and livestock handlers.

Admiral William Crowe, a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the chairman of the board of BioPort and the company quickly aquired a reputation as a crappy, problem-plagued firm with quality control problems in its product line. But because it was the only producer of the anthrax vaccine at a time when the threat of catastrophic biological attack was being mightily oversold [during the Clinton administration], it was propped up by Uncle Sam.

"[The Pentagon announced] it has agreed to more than double what it pays nation's only licensed manufacturer of vaccine against deadly biological agent anthrax, fearing it will run out of vaccine," wrote the New York Times, back in 1999. "[The Pentagon] is committed to vaccinate all 2.4 million active-duty troops and reservists, but company, Bioport Corp, has financial trouble and warns it could fail if Pentagon does not pay more ... [the] company's directors include William J. Crowe Jr, retired Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff ..."

In a side note, Crowe died recently.

Because of BioPort's reputation, the company was essentially renamed and restructured as Emergent Biosolutions in an evasive and complicated set of business maneuvers.

The Motley Fool columnist makes the "bull case" for BioPort/Emergent by calling on the wisdom of stock-picking blogs.

"New outfit, in the DC Beltway, high Federal exposure," writes one prognosticator, somewhat ignorantly. "Revenue extremely [erratic] quarter to quarter. Large [bioterror] exposure in its vaccines. My main fundamental statistic is Return on Invested Capital and it is terrific at 26%."

"Whatever political party takes over the White House in 2009, I doubt that the new occupant will relish the prospect of being the person whose failure to prepare allowed the U.S. to suffer its first bioterror disaster," writes the Fool's columnist.

The idea, of course, is to recognize that cheap biodefense stock must, by nature, be bullish because fear of biological attack is never allowed to die in this country.

While the potential for a catastrophic attack by anthrax is very low and in such a surprise attack a vaccine would be of no immediate value, the arguments are too complicated for politicians and the average citizen who tends to lean toward the default position of funding everything that has biodefense attached to it.

The anthrax vaccine has a valuable purpose -- the one established when it was first certified in the early Seventies. The standard treatment for anthrax exposure is administration of the antibiotic, Cipro. The nation maintains a reservoir of Cipro in the national emergency stockpile.

The other mandated use for Emergent's vaccine is the fighting man. Our soldiers have to take it. This ensures a regular market for it although it has now become obvious that there is about a zero chance of being attacked by an anthrax weapon in the war we are now fighting in Iraq.

This link at ProMed shows the weekly reporting on anthrax worldwide. A small number of cutaneous infections, exposures and observations of anthrax in animals occur in the US per year.

"No anthrax was found in the rooms where a anthrax-positive research rabbit lived at the University of New Mexico, the State Department of Health said this morning [22 Nov 2007]," reads one e-mail report.

"Swabs taken Friday [16 Nov 2007] from rooms exposed to the laboratory rabbit, exposed to a wild strain of anthrax, showed no traces of the bacteria, said department spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer ... Still, 2 employees who had contact with the rabbit were given antibiotics that are used to treat infections caused by exposure to anthrax, which can be passed from animal to human."

The Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory has confirmed [today - 13 Jul 2007 - Mod. MHJ] a positive anthrax culture on an animal necropsy specimen that was submitted from Tom Green County due to a cattle and deer die off that was reported by a private veterinarian on [6 Jul 2007] to the Texas Department of State Health Services," reads another e-mail from this year.

"[At] today's low valuation [$5.51 with a frowny face -- DD] investing in a single-digit-P/E Emergent BioSolutions looks like a smart bet on that prediction," concludes the Motley Fool business writer.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


"William Chrisman had three wives and nine children to support, he had a felony criminal record, and he struggled with panic attacks," reported AP on recent pre-trial hearings in the case again Hassan Abujihaad. In a subsequent reprint at the Post, journalistic practice has had the result of glossing over Chrisman's creepy social life with "three wives" by "common law" and his attempt to add a fourth to his stable.

Identified alternately as William Chrisman and Jameel Chrisman in news stories, the man is an FBI informant in the terror case involving Abujihaad's e-mails in 2001 to Azzam Publications run by Babar Ahmad.

"Nevertheless, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, [Chrisman] was determined to assist the federal government," the Associated Press continued.

"[Chrisman] became an informant for the FBI, and his work helped authorities charge two men -- both Muslim converts, like Chrisman -- who were suspected of supporting terrorism."

"The role of Chrisman, 34, a former gang member, was revealed last week during a two-day hearing to determine what evidence can be admitted when Abujihaad's trial begins in February.

"Chrisman left gang life more than a decade ago and converted to Islam while in prison for attempted armed robbery and possession of a stolen car. Now a sheep farmer in Illinois, Chrisman said that he had wanted to join the military since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but that his criminal record prevented him from enlisting. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he walked into an FBI office and offered his services.

"Since then, he has helped out on several cases."

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow logged onto PACER and could not immediately find any criminal court files on William or Jameel Chrisman. The database being what it is and knowing vagaries in spelling in journalism, it is possible DD simply missed them. One supposes it is also possible the FBI had them removed as a precaution because of Chrisman's role as a paid informant.

"Prosecutors are seeking to introduce evidence of the [alleged terror plot] for the trial, set for next month," reported the Los Angeles Times, last week. "That evidence includes wiretaps, statements from [William Chrisman] -- himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy -- and 'efforts to obtain weapons and ammunition in connection with the proposed sniper attack ...'"

The alert reader will note that parts of the case carry a strong scent of entrapment, propagated by the FBI's informant, Chrisman, a former felon and gang member possibly motivated -- common sense would seem to dictate -- more by a desire for cash money to support his unusual fetish for common law "wives" than, uh, patriotism.

The original accusations against Hasan Abujihaad stem from e-mails the ex-Navy signalman made while serving aboard the destroyer Benfold in 2001. They eventually resulted in an indictment on terror charges discussed last week and in other publications here.

The US government has slowly nursed the Abujihaad case, positioning Chrisman as an informant while surveilling the defendant.

It should be noted that during the time period from 2001 to 2006, Abujihaad never accumulated any materials for the carrying out of bombing and sniper attacks, or any obvious terror plans. It is only the discussion of such plots, with Chrisman -- the informant, and another man who has already pled guilty, Derrick Shareef, which the government is trying to have included as evidence.

If any readers have retrieved William Chrisman's criminal jackets from the court system, they are invited to send it to your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow for discussion and posting. Your anonymity is guaranteed.

AP profile on William Chrisman.

"A case of terror or entrapment?" wrote the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

This in a report on the terror trial of the Liberty City Seven.

"A federal prosecutor urged a jury Thursday to convict seven Miami men on terrorism conspiracy charges for an alleged plot to bomb Chicago's Sears Tower, saying they offered themselves as a readymade cell to a man they believed was an emissary of al Qaeda," wrote reporter Carol J. Williams for the Times.

"But defense attorneys for two of the men on trial called the case an outrageous example of government entrapment in which the men pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and promised to commit criminal acts in hopes of getting $50,000. The men had neither the will nor the means to carry out the crimes, the lawyers said.

" ' Like we don't have enough people to do harm to the United States that we have to fabricate a crime!,' Ana Jhones, attorney for alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste, said in her closing argument to the jury..."

"[One defense attorney, Roderick Vereen] challenged jurors to find one comment in the volumes of evidence to suggest his client planned to take part in any criminal acts ... Vereen described undercover operative [Abbas al Saidi] as a 'clumsy liar' who had traded in illegal weapons before his latest undercover gig and [another informant -- Elie Assad] as a dubious character denied entry in Mexico, Syria and Yemen."

"[Informant Al Saidi], a Liberty City shopkeeper, raised the terror plot allegations only because he needed a fresh undercover assignment, said defense attorney Jhones.

"The two men [Al Saidi and Assad] earned more than $310,000 plus hotel lodging and expenses for their services in the case, she told jurors."

Blog readers will note that Hasan Abujihaad, as well as the Liberty City 7, are African Americans.

Liberty City 7 case at the Los Angeles Times.