Woody Allen’s “Bananas” comes to life in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan’s President, Saparmurad Niyazov is number one with a bullet (pun possibly intended) on the “cuckoo regime hot 100”. I suppose if you had Having Iran and Afghanistan as neighbors, you would be feeling kinda edgy too.

He began by renaming the months of the year after himself, his mother, who died in an earthquake when Niyazov was eight, and a few of his favourite words (“Flag Month”, for example); and followed it up by decreeing that old age officially doesn’t begin until 85. This was possibly in relation to both his 62nd birthday – which he celebrated by dying his hair jet-black – and his rampant hypochondria. On Turkmenistan’s website, there is more about Niyazov’s recent doctor’s appointment than on melons and sulphur combined. “I cannot help but admire [the President’s] inexhaustible power of life!” his doctor, “famous surgeon” Hans Meisner, is quoted as saying. Apparently, millions of the poverty-stricken people of Turkmenistan “sighed with relief” at the news. “Let us remember it uninterruptedly!” the website urges. With little else but melons and sulphur to contemplate, this shouldn’t be hard.

Have to admit that I like the phrase “Let us remember it uninterruptedly!”. It reads like a fumbled English sub-title in a old HK movie. I’m waiting for the decree for underwear to be worn on the outside.

[via Psychoceramic Mailing List]

Keeping up with the Finns: Embassy upscaling in D.C.

Embassy Row in Washington D.C. is transforming into a weird amalgamation of the World’s Fair and the Las Vegas Strip.

One recent sticky summer evening, the Swedish ambassador welcomed his guests with chilled vodka and what he called the most important news of the year: Sweden had just received permission to build a new embassy here.

“This is the most powerful country in the history of the world, and we need a showpiece for Sweden,” said the ambassador, Jan Eliasson.

Then, to underline the seriousness of the venture, the ambassador pointed to a successful Nordic rival, “Like the Finnish Embassy.”

[via Red Rock Eater]

Is Bin Laden a Cthulhu Cultist?

State of the art bulldada for your Sunday evening…

It must be understood that the identity of the statues is highly suspect. There were two large guardian Buddhas, with distorted quasi-Chinese features; as many people recollect, Buddha was Indian, and there was only one Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. A strong hint of the eldritch influence over the creation of these stone collossi comes from the fact that the particular emperors which constructed them ruled over the Indian cities of Sarnath and Mathura (which sounds more than a bit like Cathuria.) These were not meant to represent Buddha, but the gods that Barzai espied on Hatheg-Kla before he was snatched up unspeakably by the Other Gods.

Yet Lovecraft himself had interesting things to say about stone collossi, most notably in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. In it, Randolph Carter seeks Mount Ngranek to behold a carven visage of one of the terrestrial gods, in order to find the bloodline of those descended from these immortals. These unusual features, including slanted quasi-Chinese eyes and pendulous earlobes lead Carter to the villages surrounding the forbidden plateau of Leng. Unsurprisingly, this leads us to recognize that within what we today call Afghanistan is the plateau of Leng, the Cold Waste, and somewhere in the most forbidding mountainous regions Kadath itself.

[via Aleph]

The Secret Life of AAA

Like a lot of folks, I belong to AAA and yes, they’ve bailed me out on more than one occasion. I’ve always considered them to be one of the cheerful good guys – a sort of throwback to old days of service stations with service. Little did you or I know, AAA is also a political group that’s been lobbying against every environmental or auto safety legislation for years.

On the subject of highway congestion, AAA can be found on the opposite side of the fence from both environmentalists and urban planners. In recent years, land-use planners have asserted that new roads actually worsen congestion because they open up more land to real estate development, which in turn puts still more cars on the roads. But AAA’s position has not substantially changed from the late 1980s. It argues that bottlenecks are a major cause of automobile pollution — so more roads must be built to eliminate them. Its 1988 “six-point strategy” for relieving congestion relied principally on new highways and outer loops around metropolitan areas. Twelve years and many miles of new road later, with congestion so bad that “road rage” is now part of the national vocabulary, AAA’s byword is still “increased roadway capacity.” Comments Paul Billings of the American Lung Association, “Building more roads to solve an air pollution problem is like buying a larger pair of pants to solve an obesity problem.”

Critics see an essential hypocrisy at AAA’s heart, for it poses as a consumer advocate yet opposes laws that would lead to cleaner air and a healthier environment for those same consumers. They also cite its history on safety. AAA says it promotes road construction and repair for the sake of its members’ safety — but when it comes to car safety, the story is different.

One of the most notorious examples was the airbag law. AAA came out against mandatory installation of airbags in cars. It released a nationwide survey showing that 67 percent of those questioned preferred laws mandating seat belt use, and started lobbying for those laws in state legislatures, weakening the airbag campaign.

In place of AAA, the Better World Travellers Club seems like a good alternative. Plus it appears to be less expensive too.

Conspiracies and probability

Good NYT article on probability and is (mis)uses. The focus here is on the mysterious post-9/11 deaths of a dozen or so microbiologists but the concepts here could be applied to any situation where someone is claiming events that are “a million to one odds” or something. Required reading for conspiracy fans after you finish C. Wright Mills.

[via Slashdot]

Despair and depression in Argentina

Note that this is real life and is occurring right now. It is not a dystopic SF movie.

A mob moved out from Las Flores, a shantytown of trash heaps and metal shacks boiling over with refugees from the financial collapse of what was once Latin America’s wealthiest nation. Within minutes, 600 hungry residents arrived on the scene, wielding machetes and carving knives. Suddenly, according to accounts from some of those present on that March day, a cry went up.

“Kill the cows!” someone yelled. “Take what you can!”

Defeating the Computer Assisted Passenger Screening system (CAPS)

Interesting paper on the weaknesses of the airport screening system and how the dependence on passenger profiles is the system’s biggest flaw. An algorithm called “Carnival Booth” demonstrates how a terrorist cell can defeat the CAPS system.

[via Boing Boing]

Want to know who’s polluting your neighborhood? Let Scorecard tell you

Punch in your zip code and Scorecard will tell you just how polluted your neighborhood is and who’s doing the dumping.

Of course I had to run it on home…

Based on EPA’s most current data, this county ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10% of all counties in the US in terms of the number of people living in areas where cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants exceeds 1 in 10,000.

2,805,785 people in ORANGE County face a cancer risk more than 100 times the goal set by the Clean Air Act.

89% of the air cancer risk is from mobile sources
10% of the air cancer risk is from area sources
0.46% of the air cancer risk is from point sources

In 1999, this county ranked among the dirtier 40% of all counties in the U.S. in terms of pm-10 24-hour average concentration.

In 1999, this county ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10% of all counties in the U.S. in terms of noncancer risk score (air and water releases)

2 Superfund sites in ORANGE County caused contamination of drinking water sources

16% of surface waters in ORANGE County have beneficial uses which are impaired or threatened. (Reports may be incomplete)

Some Rivers, Streams and Creeks are impaired by Pathogens and Nutrients
Some Lakes, Reservoirs and Ponds are impaired by Nutrients and Metals
Some Estuaries, Bays and Coasts are impaired by Pathogens and Metals

The leading sources of water quality problems are Nonpoint Sources, Construction, and Urban Runoff/Storm Sewers

Now that’s a government logo! DARPA’s Information Awareness Office

darpa-logototal information awareness useful for preemption; national security warning; and national security decision making.” needs a giant eye-in-the-pyramid.

Either they have a wicked sense of humor, or they’re totally serious. Scarily, I think they’re serious…

[via Boing Boing]

Peru mulls Free Software, Gates gives $550k to Peruvian president

Remember a couple of months ago when Peru was considering to mandate the use of open-source software in all government agencies?

Well, guess where Bill is at the moment? In Lima, where he presented Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo with a briefcase full of Microsoft petty cash – well, $550K worth of money, software, and consulting actually.