Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

So, they can't agree on peace, but they can come together and work on solutions for the Dead Sea? The Dead Sea is lowest place on Earth and it keeps getting lower. The Dead Sea is a popular tourist site, and its waters and low atmospheric conditions (at minus 440 meters below sea level) have been used since at least the times of the Romans for their healing powers. The Israeli government recently approved the "economic peace corridor" project, which is due to build a 160 km channel to bring water from the Red Sea, through the Arava desert valley, into the Dead Sea in order to prevent the Dead Sea from drying up. Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Dahabi is concerned about the sea. In fact, he announced Saturday that finding additional water resources for his citizens and the Dead Sea are top priority. This year the rate of decline in the sea's level is expected to be over 4 feet; the cause is man-made. People are using 90 percent of the Dead Sea's main source, the Jordan River, for farming and drinking. As the Dead Sea's water recedes, hundreds of sink holes have appeared making the coastline dangerously unstable, which is not good for tourism. The sea is one the region's biggest attractions and has one of the world's most unique environments. If Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Israelis are already in agreement as to how to proceed, why is peace so goddamned elusive?

A lawless Mexican Army operating on our southern border IS a problem for this country. Forget the idiots who spout off about immigration reform--we cannot have this. The National Human Rights Commission on Friday accused the Mexican military of wrongfully killing eight civilians at roadblocks, torturing witnesses and allowing soldiers accused of rights violations to escape prosecution during its continuing campaign against drug cartels. In a lengthy report, commission investigators documented a case of soldiers jamming splinters beneath the fingernails and toenails of a witness and forcibly injecting alcohol down his throat. The man had been mistaken for a drug dealer operating in the hills near the border south of Phoenix, the report said. In another case, soldiers stormed a house in the western village of Uruapan and allegedly tortured two suspects by stabbing their genitals with electric cattle prods. Other suspects were held at military facilities, forced to undress and barred from communicating with lawyers or family. Most of the abuses have gone unpunished, the report said. For instance, no action has been taken against soldiers suspected of shooting dead four civilians at a roadblock in the central state of Sinaloa, the report said. Don't they know--torture is what WE do best.

Only a lame-duck Senator would dare propose a return to the 55 mph speed limit:
Congress thus far has shown no movement toward resurrecting the 55-mph speed limit, but one of the Senate's senior members — Republican John Warner of Virginia — says it's time to start the conversation about an energy-saving national speed limit to help spare Americans from usurious fuel costs. The 55-mph limit was imposed by federal law during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, remained in effect for 20 years and ultimately was booted off the roadways by Congress in 1995 amid near-universal contempt among motorists. Warner hasn't specified what a new limit should be, but he points out that Americans saved 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day when the 55-mph speed limit was in effect. He told fellow senators this week that he'll probably proceed with legislation after the Energy Department determines the most fuel-efficient speed limit for the nation's highways. "We have to take the lead in Congress, and hopefully the president will join," Warner said on the Senate floor. "We have that duty." Ain't gonna happen--this President wants to be loved and leave a legacy, which isn't going to happen.

I'm sorry, but you need a hell of a lot more skill to play chess than poker, so this doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot: Human pride took a hit 11 years ago when IBM's Big Blue computer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Now it's poker players' turn to be humiliated by a machine. A computer system called Polaris outperformed some of the world's top players last weekend at a human-vs.-machine competition in Las Vegas. The score was computer 3, humans 2, with one draw. If you think it should be easier for a computer to win at poker than at the highly intellectual game of chess, think again. The human element makes poker a much more complex challenge. "Poker is a completely different game," said computer scientist Michael Bowling, the leader of a Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta, Canada. "In chess or checkers, you have perfect information. There are no secrets on the board," Bowling said. "But in poker you don't know the other person's cards. The basic computer techniques used in chess can't help you in poker." Ever seen the world's best poker players? Now, compare those to Spassky, Kasparov, Geller, Karpov, Fischer, and the like. 'nuff said.

Were any of them used for religious purposes? Not that I care, but, damn. That's a lot of charges: Ten people have been arrested and another one cited by Kentucky state conservations officers after a nearly two-year undercover investigation of the illegal possession, importation and buying and selling of venomous snakes and other reptiles. Forty-four officers with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife seized more than 125 venomous snakes and other reptiles, including an alligator, in the investigation, and are expected to issue more than 700 charges. Animals seized included illegal western diamondback rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes, cottonmouth water moccasins, northern and southern copperheads, cobras, great basin rattlesnakes, a gaboon viper, a puff adder and a 2-foot-long alligator.

A little help for struggling Americans? The Senate has passed a massive housing aid package to save hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure. Struggling homeowners who can't afford their mortgages and banks facing big losses would get government help under a foreclosure rescue that has broad bipartisan support. The $300 billion plan was approved on 63-5 vote that reflected broad bipartisan support despite a White House veto threat. Final action on the legislation is weeks off. The House wants to rewrite some details, and lawmakers are negotiating with the White House in efforts to avoid a veto. The centerpiece of the plan would let the Federal Housing Administration back up to $300 billion in new loans to give struggling homeowners more affordable, fixed-rate mortgages. It allows lenders who agree to take a substantial loss on the mortgages to reclaim at least some money and avoid a costly foreclosure. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the Financial Services Committee chairman and an architect of the bill, said the few but significant revisions House leaders are seeking could be made in as little as one week. Key players are preparing for a week of intense negotiations to resolve differences on Capitol Hill and with the White House, with an eye toward producing a bill President Bush could sign later this month.

Can't say this enough--get checked if you need to: New research shows there's been a disturbing increase in melanoma among young women. In 1973, there were five-and-a-half cases per 100,000 women, ages 15-39. But by 1980, the rate had nearly doubled. And it went up another 50 percent by 2004. During that same time, the melanoma rate for young men leveled off. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Sixty-two thousand new cases are reported each year in this country and more than 8,000 Americans die from it. The link takes you to some work done by Katie Couric--and this is one thing she can do well, so check it out.

No twittery here--this case meant something: It was above 80 degrees, the start of another steamy summer day in Washington. At 8:58 on the morning of July 25, 2001, three D.C. police sergeants gathered 28 cadets along Glover Road in Rock Creek Park. They were looking for any trace of a government intern named Chandra Ann Levy. The 24-year-old woman from California, with hazel eyes and a head full of unruly brown curls, had left her Dupont Circle apartment and then simply disappeared. She had been missing for 85 days, and the search for her had captivated the city and the nation. Her laptop computer's history showed that she was interested in visiting the vast 1,750-acre park on the day she vanished. See a 360 degree view of the site where Chandra Levy's remains were found in 2002.Now, the line of cadets executed the order of the city's chief of detectives, Cmdr. Jack Barrett: Search 100 yards from the roads that crisscross the park. But someone had made a mistake. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey had wanted the cadets to search 100 yards off the park's trails. By limiting the search to the areas near the roads, the police would canvass a far smaller portion of the park and not go deep into the woods. Either Ramsey miscommunicated his order, or Barrett misunderstood it. Read on for more...

Go get yourself some Glenn Greenwald and enjoy your weekend: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, one of the country's handful of truly excellent investigative journalists over the last seven years, has written a new book -- "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals" -- which reveals several extraordinary (though unsurprising) facts regarding America's torture regime...

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