May 2009

As usual, Washington is working overtime to protect the sponsors of 9/11:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is supporting efforts by the Saudi royal family to defeat a long-running lawsuit seeking to hold it liable for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks…

But family members of several Sept. 11 victims said they were deeply disappointed and questioned whether the decision was made to appease an important ally in the Middle East. The Saudis have aggressively lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to have the lawsuit dismissed, government officials say.

“I find this reprehensible,” said Kristen Breitweiser, a leader of the Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. “One would have hoped that the Obama administration would have taken a different stance than the Bush administration, and you wonder what message this sends to victims of terrorism around the world.”

Bill Doyle, another leader of the Sept. 11 families whose son was killed in the attacks, said, “All we want is our day in court.”
The lawsuit, brought by a number of insurance companies for the victims and their families, accuses members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia of providing financial backing to Al Qaeda — either directly to Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, or indirectly through donations to charitable organizations that they knew were in turn diverting money to Al Qaeda.

A district court threw out the lawsuit, finding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act provided legal protection from liability for Saudi Arabia and the members of the royal family for their official acts.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan said in the brief to the Supreme Court that her office agreed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit “that the princes are immune from petitioners’ claims,” although she pointed to somewhat different legal rationales in reaching that conclusion…

Why would our government be protecting these ‘allies’? If there is sufficient evidence for a court case, if the Saudi leadership does have a history of terror support, and if they’re still supporting attacks against Americans (which they are) then they can’t possibly be considered allies.

Our government, like an abused woman, believes that it must stand by its abuser and protect it from all harm. What would we do without our beloved terror-supporting friends?


Stonehenge in Manhattan is getting more popular every year. Via Boing-Boing:

NYC turns into Stonehenge – [On May 28], Manhattan floods dramatically with sunlight just as the Sun sets precisely on the centerline of every street.

Usually, the tall buildings that line the gridded streets of New York City’s tallest borough will hide the setting Sun.

This effect makes Manhattan a type of modern Stonehenge, although only aligned to about 30 degrees east of north. Were Manhattan’s road grid perfectly aligned to east and west, today’s effect would occur on the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, March 21 and September 21, the only two days that the Sun rises and sets due east and west.

If today’s sunset is hidden by clouds do not despair — the same thing happens [approximately] every May 28 and July 12.

This year it happened on the 30th.

And remember, don’t look directly into the sun! I took these shots by adjusting focus for the approximate distance and holding the camera way up over my head. It worked – kinda..

If you’d like to reproduce the fake model effect you see in the Dollhouse intro in photographs, Christopher Phin* tells you how to do it.

It’s best to start with a photograph of a scene that’s viewed from a distance, above the subjects. Bright lighting (like the artificial light that illuminates models) is best.

I used this photograph of Columbus Circle, taken from the rooftop of a friend’s very nice apartment:


I followed the first part of Christopher’s directions:

Open up your chosen image, press Q to switch to Quick Mask mode, then click on the Gradient tool. Set the colours to the default black and white by pressing D, then switch them around by clicking on the double-headed arrow next to the colour chips. Next, set up the gradient as shown above. Make sure you select the repeating gradient type – fourth icon along, looks like a cylinder.

Choose where you want the focal point of the photo to be – usually about halfway between top and bottom – and click and hold at that point. Drag the line of the gradient tool upwards, then release it towards the top of the frame; it doesn’t hurt to be a little off the pure vertical. You should get something like what’s shown above. Press Q again to switch back from Quick Mask mode.

Chose Filter ▸ Blur ▸ Lens Blur to bring up the Lens Blur filter pane. It can take a little tinkering to get the settings just right, but try the above values as a starting place. The Iris section controls the shape of the virtual iris in the lens; a hexagonal iris is most normal, and you could try rounding out the sharp corners of the geometric shape using Blade Curvature. Rotation controls the angle of the hexagon. The Specular Highlights section adds little glints to bright areas, but it’s usually not a good idea to drop the value of the Threshold much below 250. Click OK to apply the effect, then clear your selection.

I tried following the second part of his directions, using the Curves palette (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Curves) RGB curve to pump up the colors in the image, but the effect didn’t work, probably because the photo was slightly overexposed. Also, it was taken on a cloudy day.

Instead, I adjusted the contrast using Levels (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Levels), and increased the contrast with the Brightness/Contrast tool (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Brightness/Contrast) to get the same effect:


* Link thanks to Photojojo

Nick Cohen on our Golden age of Paranoid Politics*:

I assume that readers do not believe that the CIA, the Mafia, the military-industrial complex or some other manifestation of the System ordered the murder of JFK. Conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination, once everywhere, are now confined to the diminishing audience for Oliver Stone’s movies. I am not sure, however, that you can say, hand on heart, that you have not thought for a fleeting moment that maybe there just might be something in the following propositions:

* That Nato governments and their tame journalists invented the “atrocities” committed by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and her allies in order to justify a war to expand the empire of neo-liberalism into the southern Balkans

* That Prince Philip, along with the British and French intelligence services, arranged the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, because she was about to marry a Muslim

* That the 9/11 atrocities in New York and Washington were an “inside job” organised by a rogue faction within the US intelligence agencies or maybe the Bush administration itself to justify war in the Muslim world;

* That Israel warned Jews to stay away from the World Trade Centre on 9/11 but allowed the slaughter of gentiles to stoke up hatred of Muslims;

* That the Jews, once again, formed a “lobby” in the US that pushed America into a needless war against Saddam Hussein;

* And that the Bush and Blair administrations knew in advance that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction worthy of the name but lied and went to war under a false prospectus…

…Until recently, examining paranoid politics was not a respectable occupation for serious writers. Stephen Jay Gould once wrote that few of his scientific colleagues wanted to spend years looking for fraudulent science when they could be concentrating on making their own discoveries. The same unwillingness to waste precious time protected fraudulent history. The effort needed to go through the shifting assertions of, say, the 9/11 “truth” campaigners would question the researcher’s sanity as much as the sanity of his or her targets. Such studies of paranoia as there have been followed the format of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, where the role of the journalist is to confirm the audience’s sense of its own superiority by inspecting American survivalists or racial supremacists, much as Georgian gentlemen examined the lunatics of Bedlam.

The rise of radical Islam with its medieval manias about Jewish conspiracies and Crusader intrigues and the wild fears the disasters of the Bush administration provoked are driving out unwarranted superciliousness, and not before time….

…The current 1970s nostalgia — a gruesomely dishonest spectacle for those of us old enough to remember what we would rather forget — makes no mention of Chairman Mao presiding over the murders of millions of real and imagined enemies in the Cultural Revolution, with the assistance of his terrifying wife, Jiang Qing…

…Meanwhile, unemployment, inflation, strikes and a civil war in Northern Ireland pushed members of the British establishment into mental collapse…Bewildered by the failure of social democracy and presiding over a Downing Street court which was boiling with jealousies and plots, Harold Wilson called in two journalists and told them:

“I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I’m asleep. You should both listen. Occasionally when we meet, I might tell you to go to the Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing on the corner. That blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere.”

He resigned shortly afterwards.

We’re suffering through our own 70’s revival, with Nirth Certifikit insanity on Fox news, a Jewish comedian enthusiastically promoting the worst Serb nationalist propaganda, anti-vaccination activists sickening children and intelligent people blathering about “intelligent design.” Some people need to have their Chakras rolfed.

Alex Jones, an Austin-based conspiracy theorist, was arrested in 2007 outside of Fox News for illegally using a bullhorn to spew Truther nonsense.

Now Fox invites ‘the great Alex Jones’ to expose the facts about global conspiracy to create a “New World Order.”

The big fat spiders in the corner of the room are going legit.

* Link thanks to Harry’s Place

I’m not a real fan of weather that’s so bitter-cold it’ll freeze your eyeballs, so I’ve never seen these in real life:

On the evening of March 31st, 2009, Tim Tevebaugh was driving home from work east of Craigmont in the southern Idaho Panhandle (see map below). Across the rolling hay fields, Tim saw a very unusual phenomenon. The snow rollers that he took pictures of are extremely rare because of the unique combination of snow, wind, temperature and moisture needed to create them. They form with light but sticky snow and strong (but not too strong) winds. Some snow rollers are formed by gravity (i.e. rolling down a hill), but in this case, the snow rollers were generated by the wind.

These snow rollers formed during the day as they weren’t present in the morning on Tim’s drive to work.

Based on estimations from Tim as well as the blades of grass in the picture, most of the snow rollers were about 18″ in height, while the largest rollers were about 2 feet tall.



Link thanks to Seablogger

Via the Wall Street Journal:

Critics may point out that the analysis is unfair — after all, it starts counting near the peak of the 1980s housing boom. Fair enough. Look at the performance since, say, early 1994, when home prices were near a historic trough. Surely someone who bought then has made a bundle.

Not necessarily. Since then the ten-city index has risen from a value of 76 to 151. Annual return: 4.7%. Inflation over that period: 2.5%. That’s still only a real return of 2.2% a year above inflation.

You can often do better on long-term inflation protected government bonds.

And real estate often costs 2% or more a year in property taxes, condo fees, maintenance, insurance and the like.

Conventional wisdom long held that home ownership was a route to wealth, and the imputed rent — in other words, the right to live in your home — was just part of the value you got from it. Under that widespread view, the recent housing bust was simply a temporary, though deep, pothole.

Yet for very many people, even over the past 15 or 20 years, the imputed rent may have been all, or nearly all, the real value they actually got from their home.

Michael Totten reports:

Adhamiyah is mostly Sunni. It was a stronghold of support for Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party regime. More recently, it was a stronghold for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Not until Al Qaeda thoroughly ravaged the place did local residents decide the Americans were the lesser of evils.

“Now many of these people,” Major Humphreys said, “many of these Sunnis of Adhamiyah, were former AQI operatives. But the only reason they were out working for Al Qaeda is because they needed sustenance. They needed a paycheck to put food on the table, and AQI provided it. So we provided them with a stable job. Most of them already had their own weapons, so we weren’t arming them. We were just giving them jobs. They go out and they guard their neighborhood. And they say, you know what? We’ve got a stable job here and we’re tired of violence. And AQI, you’re not welcome here anymore.”

Some analysts have described this phenomenon as “buying off” or “bribing” insurgency. This is half true at best. The insurgency did not go away. The leaders were never bought off. Only the opportunists and low-level operatives were. And they weren’t even really bought off. An authentic anti-terrorist movement took hold in Iraq, and some former low-level operatives were given jobs as long as they were deemed to be loyal to the local authorities. Al Qaeda in Iraq still exists. It was never bought off. Its leaders remain fanatically ideological and can’t be bought off or bribed for all the money in the world.

“AQI was forced out of Adhamiyah,” Major Humphreys said. “AQI is no longer welcome. Now granted, AQI is not completely done. There are still elements out there operating. They would like nothing more than to get back in and gain control. But their days are extremely numbered. We recently had a couple of car bomb attacks. That’s AQI trying to re-establish itself. But we’re on the hunt for this car bomb cell. And I think we’re pretty close to getting them thanks to the Iraqi Army and the Sons of Iraq that are getting tips on AQI members. The people won’t allow it, and that broke AQI.”

Visit his website to read more, and to support independent journalism.

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