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Saturday, April 03, 2004

This seemed like a terrific idea...

CaffeDerm

...and then I realized it was nothing but a cruel April Fool's hoax by the folks at ThinkGeek.

These people are twisted, obscure, and rude. I love 'em.

But I still wish I could order caffeine patches.

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Quotes of the Day

I was thinking about this - maybe it's time we stopped looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and started looking for oil.-Jay Leno

John Ashcroft returned back to work today for the first time since surgery to remove his gall bladder. He spent today inviting people in his office to see his new creepy paper weight. -Conan O'Brien

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Sounds like my kind of place...

Fictional? I swear I've been to this place.

LONDON (Reuters) - Intrepid travelers with no corner of the globe left to conquer could try an adventure holiday in Eastern Europe's hidden jewel -- Molvania.

A new guide to "the land untouched by modern dentistry," published in Britain on Thursday, lists some of Molvania's highlights, including its nuclear reactor with genuine 1950s-era cracks and magnificent zoo with 1,000 animals, all crammed in one cage.

Eating out in Molvania -- spiritual home of the polka and whooping cough -- is cheap, but you may have to pay extra for a waiter with a mustache, the guide advises.

Travelers tempted by such a Stalinist paradise but maybe wary of this article's dateline should know that the book is real, even if the country, sadly, isn't.

"It's a bit of a practical joke that got out of hand," Australian Tom Gleisner, one of the spoof travel guide's authors, told Reuters.

"The idea for a joke travel book came about 10 years ago when I was backpacking through Portugal with friends. We decided to make up a country so we wouldn't offend anybody- or offend everybody, depending on how you look at it, " he said.

Just like the thousands of real travel books that map, label and rate every country from Azerbaijan to Zambia, the Molvania guide dishes up history, the country's best hotels and restaurants, and even provides travelers with useful phrases:

Sprufki Doh Craszko? means "What is that smell?."

Togurfga trakij sdonchskia? loosely translates as " What happened to your teeth?."

The guide also offers a phrase you probably won't need: Frijyhadsgo drof, huftrawxzkio Ok hyrafrpiki kidriki, which means "More food, inn-keeper."

While the book generates laughs by poking fun at the sort of country whose hotels, restaurants and transport systems repel tourists more than they welcome, it also has a serious point to make.

"Travel guides are just so ubiquitous; we all grab them like life-rafts and are almost too frightened to venture forth without reading about recommendations first, " Gleisner said.

"It's almost at the point where people look up to read about a site instead of looking at the actual site. They've come to dominate travel so much we did feel it was time to do a spoof," he added.

"Molvania," by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Stich is published by Atlantic Books.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Brain Viagra?

I found this a few days ago, but -ahem- forgot about it.

A drug nicknamed "Viagra of the mind" that enables people to improve their memory is to be tested on humans and could be on sale within five years.

Tim Tully, a professor of genetics at Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York, who developed the drug, said: "If it proves safe and effective it could ultimately be used by people who want to learn a language or a musical instrument or even in schools." The most important market, however, could be healthy people in their 40s and 50s whose memory was deteriorating.

The drug, code-named HT-0712, helps to retain information in the short-term memory. It works by activating a gene contained in every human cell. Once activated, it allows brain cells to make the connections vital for memory formation.

In many people, these memory-forming processes slow with age, leading to forgetfulness.

This summer, 100 people in the United States with mild memory loss will receive the drug to test its safety and efficacy. Professor Tully hopes it will help patients to develop improved memories and will compensate for damage done by the early stages of dementia. If the study is successful, larger trials will be carried out with the aim of producing the drug commercially within five to seven years.

Professor Tully said it was too early to predict the cost of the drug or how frequently it could be taken.

The decision to carry out research on humans follows successful tests of the drug on fruit flies by Helicon Therapeutics, a research company founded by Professor Tully.

Fruit flies given the drug learnt to avoid noxious chemicals to which they were exposed after only one encounter. Flies that were not given the drug had to be exposed to the chemicals an average of 10 times before learning not to go near them.

Similarly, an oral form of the drug boosted the memory of mice when they were given it 20 minutes before a training exercise or up to 60 minutes afterwards. The animals' ability to learn was measured by how quickly they recognised signals warning of electric shocks.

A rival American company, Memory Pharmaceuticals, is also developing drugs designed to aid memory formation. One of its founders, Eric Kandel, a Nobel prizewinner for his work in the field, said a medical breakthrough seemed imminent.

Dr Kandel, a professor of physiology and cell biophysics at Columbia University in New York, said: "Whether it's this company or another, I don't know, but someone will have one of these drugs on the market within five to 10 years." Ten other US companies are thought to be developing similar drugs.

However, such memory-enhancing treatments may not be completely safe and could be open to abuse, said Steven Rose, a professor of neurobiology at the Open University in Milton Keynes. "My guess is that, as with steroids for athletes, they will turn out to be virtually uncontrollable legally and, as a society, we're going to have to learn to live with them," he said.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Let me get this straight...

Our army has an occupation force in Iraq, the country with the world's largest oil reserves, yet gasoline prices are at record levels?

And our long-time friends, the Saudis- you know, the country that was home to just about all of the 9/11 terrorists-decide to help us out by voting to cut OPEC oil production by a million barrels a day?

Good thing the executive branch has such close ties to the oil industry and can protect our interests, huh?

-----

Quote of note: "So, how was your week?"-Comedy Central Daily Show host to Richard A. Clarke.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Even better than the pledge...

by Linda R. Monk (in the Washington Post

The Supreme Court has been hearing oral argument on one of the more explosive questions before it: whether public school teachers can lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance to a nation "under God." In the Newdow case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that public school teachers within that circuit (comprising nine Western states) violate the First Amendment when they lead students, even those who are willing, in the pledge. The court said that teachers are endorsing religion, contrary to the Establishment Clause, when they lead the class in reciting the pledge's words: "one nation, under God." In a public school setting, the lower court held, nonbelieving children can be coerced by teachers' actions in a way that adults are not.

The best solution to this problem — one that respects both the community's desire to instill patriotism and the conscience of religious dissenters — is to end recitation not just of the words "under God" but of the entire Pledge of Allegiance. In its place could go a much better statement of our national values: the Preamble to the Constitution.

The nation's founders wrote the preamble in 1787. The pledge was written in 1892 by a socialist minister to honor Christopher Columbus in a children's magazine. "Under God" wasn't even in it until 1954, after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus.

Why the preamble? Because it affirms the sovereignty of "we the people," who strive for a "more perfect union" and thus "do ordain and establish this Constitution." That last part is trickier than it seems. It unites citizens in an ongoing responsibility to uphold constitutional values, not just to mouth loyalty oaths.

It's important to remember the Pledge of Allegiance itself has a mottled history — unsurprising in a nation where people take oaths seriously. When World War II was brewing in Europe, Jehovah's Witnesses were the most disliked religious group in America because they opposed saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

What could it hurt, argued countless school boards and eight Supreme Court justices in a 1940 ruling, for schoolchildren to learn a lesson in patriotism? Jehovah's Witnesses responded that swearing an oath to a flag was the equivalent of worshiping a graven image. They also noted the similarity of the flag salute, which then involved children pointing their outstretched right arms toward the flag, to the "Heil Hitler" salute of Nazi Germany. The Nazis were at that time persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses for refusing to give that salute.

After the 1940 court decision on the pledge, Witnesses' children could be denied the right to attend school, even if they stood respectfully and quietly during the pledge. The court's ruling unleashed a wave of violence against Witnesses nationwide, with 335 attacks against 1,500 Witnesses in 1940 alone — including a castration in Nebraska.

Out of shame over the wave of religious violence it had triggered, the Supreme Court overturned itself only three years later, the fastest reversal in its history. Wrote Justice Robert Jackson, who later served as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds."

As amended in 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance makes a statement about God's role in the republic that the framers of the Constitution omitted in 1787. True, the signature line of the Constitution does include the standard dating convention "in the year of our Lord," but that hardly qualifies as an assertion equivalent to "one nation under God." Despite pleas in the ratification debates to add such divine references to the Constitution, the framers believed these are the words we all can agree on: "We the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

(Thanks to Grace McGarvie on alt.quotations.)

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TMI...

...stands for "too much information" and this website might fall into that category.

It is, however, a good way to find out the partisan leanings of one's friends, neighbors, and associates.

"You already have zero privacy- get over it."-Scott McNealy, CEO, Sun Microsystems

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Goodbye, Sir Peter

Some thoughts from Peter Ustinov, who died yesterday. The Oscar winning actor and activist was 82.

---

Americans believe that freedom was their invention. They have been known to send peace-corps troops to Athens to teach the Greeks the meaning of democracy.

An optimist is one who knows exactly how sad the world can be, while a pessimist is one who finds out anew every morning.

Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.

Corruption is nature's way of restoring our faith in democracy.

Courage is often lack of insight, whereas cowardice in many cases is based on good information.

I have three daughters and I find as a result I played King Lear almost without rehearsal.

I'm convinced there's a small room in the attic of the Foreign Office where future diplomats are taught to stammer.

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.

In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.

In the case of the American presidency it is the machine which drives the driver, and the driver is only required to make reassuring gestures of being in charge of the machine.

Intelligent or not, we all make mistakes, and perhaps the intelligent mistakes are the worst, because so much careful thought has gone into them.

It is of course, reprehensible to steal from others, but plain stupid to steal from yourself.

Parents are the bones upon which children sharpen their teeth.

The French and the British are such good enemies that they can't resist being friends.

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Four ways you can tell they're filming a movie next to your office building in downtown Chicago:

4. The vacant lot next to the building is filled with trailers loaded with movie equipment.

3. There are security people everywhere.

2. It's 30 degrees above freezing, and there's snow on Wacker Drive.

...but the dead giveaway is...

1. The snow on Wacker Drive is pure white, a sure sign that something strange is going on.

Here's the link for info on the Nicholas Cage/Michael Caine film, "The Weather Man"

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About Internet medical advice

I am somewhat reluctant to follow medical advice I find on the Internet. Review the entry below about the health benefits of picking and eating your own boogers and you'll see what I mean.

Yesterday morning I developed a case of the hiccups. Had 'em all the way from Pittsburgh back to Chicago, and I couldn't get to sleep.

I was in no mood to try all the traditional, non-effective methods we've been taught since we were kids. I headed for the net hoping that there had been some real breakthrough in hiccup technology.

And believe it or not, I found it.

Go to Jeff Goebel's Hiccup Cure site. He provides an extremely simple method that you can even use with kids.

I'm not sure why it works, but it does. My hiccups were gone in two minutes and didn't return.

But I'm still not buying the booger business.

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Those French have a different word for everything

Roger Ebert has noted the new film Scooby Doo 2 will probably be named Scooby Doo Deux in France.

Discuss.

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How about pledging allegiance to the Constitution?

Few questions have inspired as much myth and misconception as the place of God in America. For example, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance last year- the decision that is before the Supreme Court now- Attorney General John Ashcroft said that God is mentioned "in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, national anthem, on our coins and in the Gettysburg Address."

Well, he was 80 percent right- but he was wrong on the most important item. The Constitution is the creation of "we, the people" and never mentions a deity aside from the pro forma phrase "in the year of our Lord." The men who wrote the Constitution labored for months. There's little chance that they simply forgot to mention a higher power. So what were they thinking?

....

It was this concept- that the government should neither enforce, encourage or otherwise intrude on religion- that found its way into the godless Constitution in the form of the First Amendment. Even the presidential oath of office, which is laid out in the Constitution, does not mention the deity. George Washington ad libbed the "So help me God" at his inaugural ceremony. Every president since has added this personal oath. They choose to say it; the Constitution does not compel it.

The Supreme Court may embrace Dr. Newdow's passionate plea, side with "under God" or split 4-4 and leave the lower court ruling alone, and it won't pick our pockets or break our legs. But the sight of one man standing up to challenge God and country is something that Madison, Jefferson and Franklin would cheer, and every American can celebrate.

Kenneth C. Davis, March 26, 2004, New York Times

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So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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