Oh, yes.

Scientists once saw itching as a form of pain. They now believe it to be a different order of sensation. Photograph by Gerald Slota.

     “Scratching is one of the sweetest gratifications of nature, and as ready at hand as any,” Montaigne wrote. “But repentance follows too annoyingly close at its heels.” For M., certainly, it did: the itching was so torturous, and the area so numb, that her scratching began to go through the skin. At a later office visit, her doctor found a silver-dollar-size patch of scalp where skin had been replaced by scab. M. tried bandaging her head, wearing caps to bed. But her fingernails would always find a way to her flesh, especially while she slept.
     One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.

From a true life story.

9.987 zombies out of 10. Must read.

[*]

June 27, 2008 · Posted in reviews  
    

From the BBC: Court rules on Guantanamo inmate

In the first ruling of its kind, a US court has overturned the designation of an inmate at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as an “enemy combatant”.

It’s a tremendous day… But he doesn’t even know about this ruling because he’s sitting in solitary confinement and we can’t tell him about it.

— P Sabin Wilett, Lawyer for Huzaifa Parhat

Well. I’ll be the first to admit that this story will be a lot more entertaining when it isn’t irregularly serialized over the course of a decade.

The messes caused by our program of weaseling around Prisoner of War treaties and our own legal system (so we can vanish people off the face of the earth and torture them) is going to cause a hundred years’ worth of ramifications, including specialized college courses dissecting what happened with which we’ll be making your grandchildren miserable.

Nobody wants that kind of horror.

In other news:

Pussy loves cock.

Pussy loves cock.

[*]

June 27, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

From the New York Times: Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

Mission accomplished.

Here, for instance, is an excerpt of ExxonMobil’s financial data from 2002-2007, in millions, according to Wikipedia:

Year-end 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Net income 11 460 21 510 25 330 36 130 39 500 40 610
Total debt 10 748 9 545 8 293 7 991 6 645 ??

Also doesn’t include non-realized income, like appreciation (or depreciation) of assets, etc. But note that is Net Income — what’s left over after expenses are paid and debt is paid down. (One of the reasons I left the debt row in the table.) Net Income = what’s distributed among executives as bonuses and divvied up among ~5800 institutional shareholders, mutual funds, and private investors.

When you ask, what exactly did we buy with the trillions of dollars we’ve flung at the Middle East since 2002, this is pretty much it. Plus danger pay for a really large number of National Guards, who ordinarily would have just stayed home and helped large metropolitan areas deal with flooding.

But anyway.

The arrangements being discussed aren’t the traditional kind of the sort of “come to the fields, keep what you pick, pay us a percentage” kind of migrant field worker deals. They’re “improve our infrastructure and equipment and techniques and we’ll pay you for services rendered — in barrels of oil since dollars are so worthless”. So instead of extracting a certain number of barrels of oil per day and paying 75% of the value of that in royalties to the holders of the mineral rights, they provide equipment and technology and training and get paid in a coin that’s worth more if they don’t really haul as much of it as they can out of the ground. Same as always, really, but this way the locals don’t scream at their oil actually falling into the hands of Americans until they actually give it to us in exchange for services rendered.

But anyway. That’ll show those terrorists what’s what!

Mission accomplished.

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June 19, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

PHR Report on Medical Evidence and Impact of US TortureJust got through reading the eighteen-page executive summary of torture in American military prisons (found at this site) mentioned in this CNN article. Haven’t gotten around to the full 120+ page version. But I will.

It’s a hell of an indictment.

The report’s download site makes you sign up and harvests your e-mail address for some reason. If doing that makes you feel uncomfortable (or you can’t think of a good fake e-mail address), let me know and I’ll see if there isn’t some other way to get you the PDFs where you don’t have to put your name on some list.

Not that you particularly want to read this report anyway. Unless you’d get some sort of sick pleasure from reading graphically detailed evidence that the current administration of the USA has been committing war crimes for six or seven years.

To intensify the nausea, if that’s your thing, you can remember that the prisoners we currently know about are probably less than two percent of the prisoners who went through US hands for the duration (so far) of the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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June 18, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

When Rupert Murdoch and his information sausage-grinder called NewsCorp bought the Wall Street Journal last year, Paul Steiger (the former managing editor of the WSJ) and Stephen Engelberg (former managing editor of the Oregonian and former investigative editor of the New York Times) put the gears in motion to start a publication centered on investigative journalism of the sort that is being phased out everywhere. ProPublica is dedicated to the public interest and is funded by foundations that support the idea of a free investigative press that doesn’t have to pimp itself out for advertising dollars or pander to readership prurience.

ProPublica went live on June 10th. So now there’s a week’s worth of stuff to go peruse. It is quite meaty.

There are RSS feeds galore, sorted by topic:

I recommend you use the above links to form the foundation of your daily news diet.

Oh. And also. In light of the recent AP refutation of Fair Use by issuing takedown notices for excerpts in blogs and blog comments, followed by a slight backpedal that includes a schedule of licensing fees for excerpts as few as five words, ProPublica has announced that the entire publication is Creative Commons licensed. And the license page details that CC licensing does not at all interfere with your Fair Use rights.

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June 18, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

How scientists are bringing dinosaurs back to life with the help of the humble chicken

Hans Larsson, a palaeontologist at McGill University in Canada, conducted an experiment in November 2007 into the evolution from dinosaurs’ long tails into birds’ short tails more than 150 million years ago.

Looking at a two-day-old chicken embryo, he made an unexpected discovery. Expecting to see between four and eight vertebrae present in the developing spine, his microscope instead picked out 16 vertebrae — effectively a reptilian tail. As the embryo developed, the “tail” became shorter and shorter, until the young bird hatched with only five vertebrae.

Larsson says of the significance of the find: “For about 150 million years, this kind of a tail has never existed in birds. But they have always carried it deep inside their embryology.” So, the blueprint for a dinosaur remained locked inside the modern-day bird.

Larsson decided to move from theory to reality. He wanted to see if he could make a chicken grow a dinosaur’s tail, turning the clock back millions of years. Manipulating the genetic make-up, he was able to extend the tail by a further three vertebrae. Larsson had pinpointed a method for turning on dormant dinosaur genes.

If birds retained a dormant tail imprint, did they still retain a memory of dinosaur teeth?

In 2005, Matt Harris and John Fallon, developmental biologists at the University of Wisconsin, noticed something strange while researching mutant chickens. Harris says: “Looking at an embryonic 14-day-old head, I came across the beak and these structures that were not supposed to be there.”

Could they really be teeth? Peeling away the beak in this tiny, mutant bird, the academics revealed sabreshaped formations almost identical to embryonic alligator teeth.

Next, Harris and Fallon attempted to trigger the formation of teeth in a normal chicken, by injecting the embryo with a virus designed to “turn on” the relevant gene. It was a long shot. “Making a tooth is complex,” says Harris. “So the idea of turning on one gene that might be able to do this in an animal that hasn’t made teeth in over 70 million years was somewhat of a stretch.”

Examining the growing embryo two weeks later, he called colleagues to look at what had happened. “You could see very clearly paired structures on the lower jaw. And so, a normal chicken can actually grow teeth.” This was unexpected. Furthermore, the teeth had the same curved shape as dinosaur
fangs.

Jack Horner, professor of paleontology at Montana State University, from the same article:

“If we want to see a dinosaur in our lifetime, we need to start with a bird and work backwards,” says Horner. “As long as birds exist, we have the ability to reach back to dinosaurs.”

In the 1990s, scientists discovered dinosaurs in China buried in a fine ash. They were preserved in remarkable detail and bird-like features, including claws and feathers, were recognizable. Horner believes that a modern bird’s DNA contains a genetic memory that could be “switched on” again, resurrecting long-dormant dinosaur traits.

To make such a creature, he would start with the genome (the whole hereditary information encoded in the DNA) of an emu. “Emus have all the features we need in order to make a Velociraptor-sized dinosaur,” he says. “If I were to make a dinosaur, that is where I’d start.”

Click here to see your new way of life.

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June 14, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

“Brushing aside arguments that the suspects were enemy combatants being held at a time of war, the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT said the detainees AT GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA, had ‘the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus’.”

More:

This is the Bush administration’s third setback at the highest US court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charge at the base in Cuba.

The court has ruled twice previously that Guantanamo inmates could go into civilian courts to ask that the government justify their continued detention.

But each time, the Bush administration and Congress, then controlled by Republicans, changed the law to keep the detainees out of civilian courts.

Let’s make this stick. Write your Senators and Representatives.

Detainees are either prisoners of war (therefore governed by the Geneva Convention) or suspected criminals (therefore governed by the basic rights of due process guaranteed by the Bill of Rights). Otherwise they’re kidnap victims. The arguments that there should be a third category is bullshit. The argument that the US Constitution doesn’t hold on foreign soil is also bullshit, as these people are in the custody and care of US soldiers and citizens in the pay of the Pentagon, wherever they are.

Hell, according to one fairly popular theory, we invaded Iraq because the dictator there wouldn’t give his citizens their basic rights. But if we go over there and do the same things, that’s okay?

Please go write your senators and representatives a quick note by clicking on the above link. It’s just a damn web form. Anyone who knows their own zipcode can do it. The shorter the message the better. Don’t know what to write? Tell them this:

We require everyone who serves in public office or with the armed forces to swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution guarantees a few easy-to-understand and easy-to-supply basic rights to people held on suspicion of criminal activity. The Constitution also holds treaties to which we are signatories as the highest law in the land. One of the treaties is the Geneva Convention, and it details certain minimum standards of treatment and care for those captured in the course of warfare.

The Bush Administration has authorized certain parties to abduct, capture, and hold indefinitely whomever they choose in obscure, remote, and restricted locations. The standards used to determine who gets captured and held is entirely at the whim of the executive branch. The treatment of these individuals is entirely at the whim of the executive branch. Knowledge of who is held and why is entirely the property of the executive branch–until information leaks out through other channels. The policies which create and perpetuate this bizarre exception to the basic human rights that those in the care of the United States typically enjoy WAS CREATED ENTIRELY TO TAKE AWAY THE BASIC RIGHTS AND GUARANTEES OF SAFETY AND “NON-VANISHMENT” TO WHICH ALL OF OUR PRISONERS ARE ENTITLED, EITHER CIVILIAN OR MILITARY.

This practice must end. Those responsible for this circumvention of basic human rights must be held accountable so it does not recur in the future. The oaths to uphold our Constitution must be enforced. Otherwise, they are worthless. And, by extension, so is our Constitution.

As you are my elected representative in the Federal Government of the United States, I charge you with your own oath–to see that our Constitution is upheld and that the basic rights guaranteed by it are applied universally to those in our care and custody, wherever they might be.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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June 12, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

Tomorrow, even.

Throaty Kneecap McForehead, the Beermas Rock Hyrax, in his Chariot, Rosebud, pulled by the Honey Badgers Lefty and Penisface, Delivering Bush-Baby-Made Beer Distilled from Zebra-and-Donkey Piss to the Fridges of All Deserving Working-Class Schmucks Every Friday the Thirteenth Like Fuckin' Clockwork
artwork by fazicar

In case you missed it, last July I declared the following:

Because I’m fed up with the Christian churches hijacking pagan festivals and painting saints all over them, I’m creating a new pagan holiday right fucking now, complete with cute fuzzy animals and enslaved workforces creating and delivering goodies AND BLOODY FUCKING DEATH to the deserving. This festival involves DRUGS AND BOOZE and is for ADULTS ONLY. The kids have enough holidays already.

The festival is one of a number of festivals called BEERMAS because I don’t care that there might be other festivals called Beermas to the extent that I’m not even googling it. Don’t care. Don’t Care. Because there are no copyrights and trademarks on traditional pagan festivals even if they’ve only existed for forty-five minutes. Got that, you intellectual-property-grubbing Wiccans? Fuck you. On with the show.

On BEERMAS, the hard-working rock hyrax named Throaty Kneecap McForehead, having filled his last keg with zebra-and-donkey-piss magically transmuted into beer, whips his hordes of enslaved brewer bush babies into rolling the kegs onto the huge razor-wheeled chariot pulled by two ass-raping, man-eating honey badgers. (One, “Lefty”, female, is pictured above. “Penisface” is never pictured, as he is known to seek out and eat photographers.) Every Friday the Thirteenth, also known as BEERMAS, around 9:05 AM Throaty K. McForehead the Rock Hyrax hops into his chariot, “Rosebud”, pulled swiftly and eagerly by Lefty and Penisface the Honey Badgers, to tour the world, stuffing the fridges of the deserving with zebra-and-donkey-piss beer AND THE BLOODY HEADS OF ALL WHO CROSS ME*, their mouths stuffed with peyote buttons and magic mushrooms, before the deserving motherfuckin’ workers of the world make it back home from work to find the goodies. The undeserving will find their fridges stuffed with snakes — or would, if their own heads weren’t already in MY fridge stuffed to the gills with peyote and magic mushrooms.

Throaty, Lefty, and Penisface will heartily tie up and assfuck** the layabout slackers who stay home from work on a Friday the Thirteenth without being well-and-truly-and-in-Technicolor® ill and will only stuff the fridge for the slackers if they had a good time. Everyone deserves a second chance.

For the truly sick they deliver bush-baby-made chicken soup. Made from zebra and donkey piss. Be warned.

On days while the beer is brewing and they aren’t making deliveries, Throaty, Lefty, and Penisface go bowling, and the bush babies have to keep setting up the pins.

There you go.

Merry Fucking BEERMAS.

The next BEERMAS is February 13 of 2009. Followed by another one in March, because Feb and March are buddies like that. And then another in November. But tomorrow is the only BEERMAS we get this year.

Be good. Go to work. Don’t slack.

And there might just be free zebra-and-donkey-piss beer in it for you.

[*]

____________________

* Technically it’s the bloody heads of all who cross ladykinbote, since this part was her idea.
** Using a strap-on, in the case of Lefty.

June 12, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

I’m sure anyone that cares has heard by now that Dennis Kucinich took up four and a half hours of the House of Representatives’  valuable late-night time last night, broadcast semi-live on C-SPAN, presenting thirty-five articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, along with verbally transcribing for the congressional record all of the supporting material.

You may recall more than a year ago he presented articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney, which were handed over to the Judiciary Committee and then never heard from again. But probably not, because it didn’t really find its way to the mainstream press.

SImilarly, the US press hasn’t really treated the attempt to start this new bout of impeachment proceedings as news. Like that “prison ship” stuff I mentioned last week. Or, as LJ-user circumambulate points out, like the Iraq Commission report that detailed the deliberate Bush Administration skewing of intelligence making the case for invading Iraq.

What <i>has</i> kinda made the press today is that Scott McClellan, former White House mouthpiece who bailed in 2006, is scheduled to testify to a congressional committee in just a couple weeks. See, recently he published a weakish tell-all book detailing how the White House lied to him, and through him, to the American People about the lead-up to the Iraq War, the Valerie Plame incident, and the screw up of the handling of Hurricane Katrina.

It took just about no time at all for Al Gore to rip McClellan a new one for saving it up and trying to make a quick buck by bringing it out in campaign season. Instead of, for instance, calling Bush and Cheney and Rove out while he was still in his position as press secretary. I think that’s a bit  unfair, seeing as he was also still in range of Secret Service sidearms then. Also, he’s been loyal to Bush since the Texas days. He was obviously uncomfortable enough to resign in 2006. Colin Powell walked out the same way when the smell got too bad for him back in 2004. McClellan was just a bit more used to it. And also, McClellan decided to put it all in writing. That can take some time, especially if you care to do a bit of research and fact checking. And seek a suitable publisher.

And steel yourself for testifying in congressional hearings. About some seriously unfinished business. Much of which has just recently been chanted, at length, into the House of Representatives’ half of the Congressional Record.

I’d love to think that something will come of either of these things, or that, due to the interaction either in Congress or in the press, something larger will happen than what most people expect.

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June 10, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    
June 10, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

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