Parasite makes men dumb, women sexy
December 26, 2006

A common parasite can increase a women’s attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.

About 40 per cent of the world’s population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians.

Human infection generally occurs when people eat raw or undercooked meat that has cysts containing the parasite, or accidentally ingest some of the parasite’s eggs excreted by an infected cat.

The parasite is known to be dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause disability or abortion of the unborn child, and can also kill people whose immune systems are weakened.

Until recently it was thought to be an insignificant disease in healthy people, Sydney University of Technology infectious disease researcher Nicky Boulter said, but new research has revealed its mind-altering properties.

“Interestingly, the effect of infection is different between men and women,” Dr Boulter writes in the latest issue of Australasian Science magazine.

“Infected men have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women.

“On the other hand, infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.

“In short, it can make men behave like alley cats and women behave like sex kittens”.

Dr Boulter said the recent Czech Republic research was not conclusive, but was backed up by animal studies that found infection also changes the behaviour of mice.

The mice were more likely to take risks that increased their chance of being eaten by cats, which would allow the parasite to continue its life cycle.

Rodents treated with drugs that killed the parasites reversed their behaviour, Dr Boulter said.

Another study showed people who were infected but not showing symptoms were 2.7 times more likely than uninfected people to be involved in a car accident as a driver or pedestrian, while other research has linked the parasite to higher incidences of schizophrenia.

“The increasing body of evidence connecting Toxoplasma infection with changes in personality and mental state, combined with the extremely high incidence of human infection in both developing and developed countries, warrants increased government funding and research, in particular to find safe and effective treatments or vaccines,” Dr Boulter said.

related article

One preacher’s message: Have hotter sex
By Brian Alexander
Dec 4, 2006

SAN DIEGO — About 100 evangelical Christian couples stand in the convention hall of a Four Points Sheraton, bow their heads and thank God for their lives and the new day. Then they sing the old-timey hymn “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus.”

I have come here expecting exactly this scene. The occasion is a seminar called “Love, Sex and Marriage,” being given by Joe Beam, a Southern preacher out of the old school, a self-described “book-chapter-and-verse guy,” who runs an outfit based in Franklin, Tenn., called Family Dynamics. So I’m anticipating condemnation of American culture — especially America’s sexual culture — that has made conservative Christians feel besieged.

But then Beam, a portly, silver-haired basso profundo dressed in khaki slacks, a sweater vest and brown tasseled loafers that make him look like a retired country-club golf pro, walks to the front of the room and proceeds to tell the men in the audience how to make their semen taste better.

Sweet stuff works, he says, which provides a built-in excuse because “then you can say, ‘I’m eating this cake for you, baby!'”

Welcome to the world of hot Christian love.

The San Diego Church of Christ is Beam’s sponsoring group today, but as far as he is concerned it could be any conservative Christian denomination. The message would be the same: Married Christians ought to be having more — and hotter — sex.

You could be forgiven for thinking “conservative Christian” and “hot sex” are oxymoronic. The missionary position has a real history, after all. But Beam is part of a burgeoning trend among evangelicals to bring sex out of the shadows, educate believers and relieve their guilt.

“For years, Christian publishing would not publish on sex,” says Michael Sytsma, a Christian sex therapist with the Sexual Wholeness Ministry based in Duluth, Ga. “If they did, it was so heavily edited nothing of value was left. Now, more and more pastors are preaching about it on Sunday, though you still do not see classes in seminaries. We are seeking to do that.”

Sytsma thinks preachers like Beam have seen — and even felt themselves — the impact of the sexual revolution, and realize the church has been left behind as a source of sexual information.

“Sex is a sacred subject,” he says. “The church generally prefers not to talk about it. But that has a dual impact. It keeps it shrouded in ignorance and the implication is that since you are not talking about it, it’s bad.”

God’s ‘most wonderful gift’
Beam sees this attitude every day. Women tell him: “I feel like I am sinning when I make love to my husband.”

“They want help,” he tells the assembled crowd at the Sheraton. At least a score of heads nod in recognition. “It’s hard,” he continues, “to make the transition from ‘sex is bad’ when you are young and single to ‘sex is good’ when you are married.” In fact, “sex is the most wonderful gift God ever gave Christians.”

Beam, who is studying for a sexology Ph.D. from the University of Sydney in Australia, is all about shining the light. He and a few others like him have concluded that conservative Christians can cope with America’s hypersexualized culture by being given permission to pluck much of its fruit.

The information he dispenses is a mix of scriptural interpretation and mainstream sexology. He does not speak in euphemisms or metaphors and his plain spokeness makes a few listeners squirm, at first. But Beam is also part entertainer with a patter that is almost vaudevillian in its timing: “Why can women be multiorgasmic and men not? Well, I’ve decided God just likes you better! … What’s the difference between a woman with PMS and a Doberman? Lipstick.”

The humor and the brazen talk, coming from a man who is not only one of them, but a leader who rubs elbows with James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, gives them permission to relax and hear his message.

It’s a simple one: Sex is good. Good sex makes people happy. It deepens relationships. So it helps marriages last and that pleases God and makes society better.

There are rules many in the secular world reject. You have to be married. You have to be heterosexual. Other prohibitions include no sex with animals, no incest, no lust for people other than your spouse, no adultery (and that includes consensual threesomes and group sex) and no porn, rape or prostitution. You can’t harm the body. And you can’t have sex during a woman’s menstrual period.

If that last one seems like an outlier — there is no particular health reason to avoid sex during menstruation among monogamous, disease-free couples — you don’t understand Beam’s world view.

Scripture is his authority. Like other evangelicals, he believes the New Testament is the literal and infallible word of God. So when the book of Acts says, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality,” that’s all he needs to know.

No inhibitions
This literalist view cuts both ways. Beam has been attacked by some conservative Christians for his liberal take on certain subjects. Much of what he preaches contradicts the teaching of other sects, such as Roman Catholicism. But he argues that if the Bible does not forbid it, you can do it. So bring on masturbation. Try any position in the Kama Sutra (but refer to drawings, please, not pictures of real people). Wife away on business? Have phone sex. Birth control is good. Even anal sex is OK if (and Beam believes this is a big if) it does no harm to the body.

If you are a married Christian, not only can you do all this, but you should be doing it.

“Christians should be having great sex lives! We should be having better sex than anybody else! So drop your inhibitions at the door of your own house,” Beam urges.

The crowd is obviously ready to do just that.

“Our church has tried to be more open about sex, and to be more real about it,” Mary Wadstrom, a member of the San Diego church and, along with her husband, Jeff, one of the organizers of today’s sessions, tells me half-way through Beam’s lecture. “There are lots of hang-ups ingrained on you every day.”

That’s very clear after Beam takes a break, giving time for attendees to fill out question cards. They’re supposed to be free to ask anything that’s been on their minds. When Beam returns he flips through the cards and says, “I am looking at your questions and let me say, you are a sick group of people!”

Everybody cracks up yet again. He begins reading:

Can you give us some techniques for oral sex?

He does, and, using his hand and arm as props, describes it in detail (“…creating suction and warmth with your mouth, your tongue here…”) complete with sound effects.

Is mutual masturbation OK?


Which sex toys are good, and can we use them at all?

“I usually get the question this way,” Beam answers. “‘What does the Bible say about vibrators?” More laughter. “Can we use a vibrator? Sure you can if you want to.”

What can you do if your wife is having trouble reaching orgasm?

“Try having sex doggy-style and simultaneously masturbating.”

He offers another suggestion: “You’ve heard of the proverbial 69?” Some in the audience return blank stares. He stares back, open-mouthed, and gently mocks them. “Huh? Is that in Acts?”

Unburdened — and eager to get home
The explicitness causes some jaws to drop, but not because people are offended.

“What is new for me is not that kind of talk,” Wadstrom says. The church has had some sexual conversations before, but always in classes segregated by gender.

“What was new is having men and women together in the same room,” she says. “That was very helpful because everybody knows what’s being said to the others.”

Beam’s presentation has a liberating effect on these couples. About four hours later, when it’s all over, many appeared unburdened. Either they were experimenting anyway, and feeling miserable about it, or they were restricting themselves to acts they thought were godly, and feeling miserable about that.

“I was raised to think sex was bad,” 23-year-old Kym Blackburn recalls of her religious upbringing. She forced her husband, Matt, a U.S. Navy enlisted man, to attend, but now he is glad he did. He is awaiting a second deployment to Iraq, and thinks their marriage will grow stronger in the weeks before he leaves.

Jose and Marta Ochoa echo that sentiment. “My whole life I thought certain things were wrong, or not Christian,” Marta, 47, tells me as her husband, Jose, 52, nods vigorously in the background.

He’d spent years asking her for more variation but now, finally, “she understands we can share all this freely and it’s not a sin like she thought. It is gonna happen more!”

That, Marta tells me, makes her very happy.

Then they excuse themselves. They’re in a rush to get home.

Even Grandma had premarital sex
Americans weren’t any more chaste in the past
Dec 28, 2006

NEW YORK – More than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex, according to a new study. The high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past.

“This is reality-check research,” said the study’s author, Lawrence Finer. “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades.”

Finer is a research director at the Guttmacher Institute, a private New York-based think tank that studies sexual and reproductive issues and which disagrees with government-funded programs that rely primarily on abstinence-only teachings. The study, released Tuesday, appears in the new issue of Public Health Reports.

The study, examining how sexual behavior before marriage has changed over time, was based on interviews conducted with more than 38,000 people — about 33,000 of them women — in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 for the federal National Survey of Family Growth. According to Finer’s analysis, 99 percent of the respondents had had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage.

Even among a subgroup of those who abstained from sex until at least age 20, four-fifths had had premarital sex by age 44, the study found.

Sex stable since the ’50s
Finer said the likelihood of Americans having sex before marriage has remained stable since the 1950s, though people now wait longer to get married and thus are sexually active as singles for extensive periods.

The study found women virtually as likely as men to engage in premarital sex, even those born decades ago. Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex by age 30, he said, while among those born in the 1940s, 88 percent had done so by age 44.

“The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government’s funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds,” Finer said.

Under the Bush administration, such programs have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

“It would be more effective,” Finer said, “to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active — which nearly everyone eventually will.”

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defended the abstinence-only approach for teenagers.

White House: Wait longer, please
“One of its values is to help young people delay the onset of sexual activity,” he said. “The longer one delays, the fewer lifetime sex partners they have, and the less the risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease.”

He insisted there was no federal mission against premarital sex among adults.

“Absolutely not,” Horn said. “The Bush administration does not believe the government should be regulating or stigmatizing the behavior of adults.” (except when they’re adults of the same sex who want to get married, and then we’re all for “stigmatizing” them right out of existence)

Horn said he found the high percentages of premarital sex cited in the study to be plausible, and expressed hope that society would not look askance at the small minority that chooses to remain abstinent before marriage.

However, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group which strongly supports abstinence-only education, said she was skeptical of the findings.

“Any time I see numbers that high, I’m a little suspicious,” she said. “The numbers are too pat.”


a terrorist act

another terrorist act

the result of terrorism

in spite of the virgil goode position on immigration, muslims are apparently good for something after all…

Richard Whittle: Uncle Sam wants US Muslims to serve

As US troops battle Islamic extremists abroad, the Pentagon and the armed forces are reaching out to Muslims at home.

[Always stress the difference. Why, some of my best friends are non-Islamic extremist Muslims.]

An underlying goal is to interest more Muslims in the military, which needs officers and troops who can speak Arabic and other relevant languages and understand the culture of places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

[Maybe the military shouldn’t have kicked out those six Arabic translators because they were gay.]

The effort is also part of a larger outreach. Pentagon officials say they are striving for mutual understanding with Muslims at home and abroad and to win their support for US war aims.

[And where I say ‘mutual understanding,’ I mean ‘lip service to superstitious morons so we can make use of them.’ We conned the Christians to get their votes, now let’s work on the Muslims. Allah forbid that any understanding of Islam be based on reading the Quran.]

Among the efforts to attract and retain Muslim cadets:

• West Point and the other service academies have opened Muslim prayer rooms, as have military installations.

[You know, they didn’t really mean it when whoever those guys were wrote the United States government would not establish a state religion, using tax dollars to fund someone else’s superstition. Fucking First Ammendment of the fucking United States Constitution.]

• Imams serve full- and part-time as chaplains at the academies and some bases.

[Now now, why stop there? We need representatives of every major and minor and current and historic religion at the academies and bases. Just in case.]

• Top non-Muslim officers and Pentagon officials have taken to celebrating religious events with Muslims overseas and here in the US.

[Isn’t that kind of like saying DURKA DURKA DURKA JIHAD except instead of being wooden puppets in a satirical movie, you’re putting on supernatural blackface to trick Muslims into… fighting Muslims?]

“There is a message here, and that is that Muslims and the Islamic religion are totally compatible with Western values,” says Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England in an interview.

[Secretary England went on to announce the end of banking, democracy, and several other entirely trivial and optional Western values. Accomodating superstition in tax-funded venues is always and forever a mistake.]

Uncle Sam wants US Muslims to serve
December 27, 2006
By Richard Whittle

WASHINGTON – As US troops battle Islamic extremists abroad, the Pentagon and the armed forces are reaching out to Muslims at home.

An underlying goal is to interest more Muslims in the military, which needs officers and troops who can speak Arabic and other relevant languages and understand the culture of places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The effort is also part of a larger outreach. Pentagon officials say they are striving for mutual understanding with Muslims at home and abroad and to win their support for US war aims. Among the efforts to attract and retain Muslim cadets:

  • West Point and the other service academies have opened Muslim prayer rooms, as have military installations.
  • Imams serve full- and part-time as chaplains at the academies and some bases.
  • Top non-Muslim officers and Pentagon officials have taken to celebrating religious events with Muslims overseas and here in the US.

“There is a message here, and that is that Muslims and the Islamic religion are totally compatible with Western values,” says Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England in an interview.

For the past two years, Mr. England has hosted an iftar, the feast that ends the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va. His guests have included ambassadors, leaders of the Muslim-American community, and Muslims who serve in the US armed forces.

President Bush also hosted an iftar at the White House in October, as he has done for several years. Gen. Robert Magnus, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, held one the same month at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington for defense attachés from predominantly Muslim nations.

The US armed services don’t recruit by religion, but the Pentagon estimates at least 3,386 Muslims were serving in the US military as of September. No precise figures are available because, while US service members are surveyed on their religion, they aren’t required to disclose it. Advocacy groups put the number at 15,000, saying many are reluctant to reveal their religion. African-Americans represent the largest share of Muslims in uniform, they add.

However uncertain the progress, the military is intensifying its outreach.

On June 6 – the anniversary of D-Day, he notes – Mr. England helped dedicate a new Islamic prayer center at the Quantico Marine Corps Base near Washington, whose 6,100 marines include about 24 Muslims, according to Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam, a Navy chaplain who serves as their imam.

The Marines also have allowed Muslims in their ranks at Quantico some dispensations to make it easier to practice their religion, says Lieutenant Commander Saifulislam, a US citizen born and raised in Bangladesh. During Ramadan, “they’re allowed to have some time off to prepare for their fasting break and not to go to physical training” while fasting, he says.

Muslim troops say misunderstandings and friction with non-Muslims in uniform arise sometimes, but practicing Islam in a military at war with extremists who profess the same faith isn’t a burden, they add.

Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Burgos, a Sunni Muslim training to be a Navy SEAL, or commando, says instructors sometimes goad him by calling him “Osama bin Burgos” or asking if he’s training to help the Taliban. But “it’s all in good fun,” he insists.

“It’s all about how much mental stress you can deal with while you’re in training,” Petty Officer Burgos says. “I just laugh or have a smirk on my face.”

His father, Asadullah Burgos, is the part-time imam at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., whose roughly 4,000 cadets include 32 Muslims, 12 of whom are foreign students.

“There’s been some insults and some taunting, but it’s been handled at the cadet level,” Imam Burgos says. “Usually that’s due to ignorance.”

Col. John Cook, the senior chaplain at West Point, says that after media reports about the academy’s new Muslim prayer room, he got a call from a self-described “concerned citizen” who fretted that “the Muslims are taking over the world.”

“I told him, ‘I’m a Christian chaplain, but I have the responsibility to provide for other faith groups,’ ” Colonel Cook says. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish cadets all have their own chapels at West Point, he notes.

Marine Sgt. Jamil Alkattan, a Sunni Muslim of Syrian heritage from South Bend, Ind., says his religion, his knowledge of Arabic, and his familiarity with Arab culture were major assets during two tours in Iraq.

Not only was he able to teach fellow marines key Arabic phrases and explain that all Muslims aren’t extremists, he says, but he also was able to befriend locals, who brought him vital intelligence. “They would come to me and say, ‘I know where bombs are,’ and this and that,” Sergeant Alkattan says. “I never got to sleep. They would come at night time and tell me, ‘Hey, I think these guys [insurgents] are trying to set you guys up,’ or, ‘I’ve seen these guys with an IED [improvised bomb].’ I think it stopped a lot of things that could have happened.”

Under a new Middle East Cultural Outreach Program created by the Marine Corps, Sergeant Alkattan is one of six Arab-American marines selected to be stationed in major American cities as liaisons to the Arab-American community and advisers to recruiters.

The program was conceived by Gunnery Sgt. Jamal Baadani, a Muslim born in Cairo who emigrated to Michigan when he was 10.

“It is not a direct recruiting program,” says Sergeant Baadani, but its goal is to educate recruiters to avoid cultural no-nos and foster good relations with Arab-American communities. The “overall objective … is to develop solid relationships with the Arab and Muslim communities for the 21st and 22nd centuries. This isn’t something that’s just a Band-Aid treatment.”



there are so many sub-plots to the dysfunction of the family that my wife has escaped from that i’m really glad i’m not still in contact with my own family. when you realise that her father and mother were not married to each other, but that her father was, and currently still is married to the same “other woman”, is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg, you’ll probably get the drift of what i am talking about. at the same time, i also realise that i belong to my own dysfunctional family, but i have – mercifully, i suppose – been purposely, deliberately and repeatedly excluded from family things like the celebration of holidays by my mother and father. i’m certain that, were i actually in contact with them, there would be at least as many sub-plots to my own family’s dysfunction, and very likely i would be portrayed as the antagonist in about 99.8% of them – which is why i say “mercifully” above… 8/

but, at the same time, spending 3 days and 2 nights visiting the in-laws is enough to drive anyone totally batty. actually, the thing that drove me the craziest was when they said they had internet access, but couldn’t get on internet… so i booted up their WXP computer, which automatically logged on to a broadband connection of some sort, automatically started MSN chat and logged into someone’s account (with two unread messages) and automatically opened some sort of IE/browser-like thing to an MSN homepage. when i wondered aloud what they thought the problem was, my mother in law said that they couldn’t “log on to internet” and pointed at the internet explorer icon, so i double-clicked it and internet explorer launched with a yahoo homepage. again, i wondered what they thought the problem was, and i was informed that, somehow, it comes up with a yahoo page, rather than the MSN page that they were expecting…



the irritating part is that nobody who lives in that house had the first clue that, not only were they already “logged on to internet”, but that their only real “problem” was that they had inadvertently changed the home page of probably the worst browser in existence, and the really irritating part is that, because their MSN homepage didn’t come up the way they expected it to, “for some reason” they “couldn’t log on to internet”… as though microsoft owns the internet, and yahoo is something totally unrelated.

that, if nothing else, would not be happening at my family’s gatherings… 8/

oh… also their virus protection is out of date… 8/ i didn’t bother to check and see if they had any virii, because if i had, and they were infected, i probably would have spent the rest of my time there as a free tech support geek trying to get the boneheads straightened out… 8/

i didn’t get anything from my My Amazon.com Wish List, but i wasn’t really expecting them to, considering their level of computer sophistication. if anyone else wants to try, it’s there.


You Are 20% Left Brained, 80% Right Brained
The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning. Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others. If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility. Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way. If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art. Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and music.


photos from the recent performance of Snow White And The Three Dorfs:


tentative word is that there will be more performances of snow white at the moisture festival this year, but nothing official yet.


happy new year everyone, as you are probably aware at this point, i am a terrorist in the same way Cindy Sheehan is a terrorist, which is why i didn’t watch shrubby junior’s state of the republican “christian” radical-right-wing part of the country that he currently calls “the union”, although i can pretty much guarantee that whatever he said, with the exception of mentioning that coretta scott king died, was 100% lies., i got involved in scanning photos and looked up at 2:58 to realise that i had an appointment at 3:00., hurray, hurray, it’s the first of may, outdoor fornication starts today., May 1st, 2006 will be the 3rd Anniversary of the end of “major combat” in Iraq., Collecting information about every American’s phone calls is an example of data mining., the ballard sedentary sousa band has a performance at the king street station, for something having to do with amtrak today at 10:00 am., 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job, i put in 10 hours on the roof yantra today, and got it almost finished., With a smug stroke of his pen, President Bush is set to wipe out a safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta., His lips are turned up in a slight smile as Bruce salamandir-Feyrecilde swings the chained balls of fire., SNOW WHITE & THE seven THREE DWARVES


Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?
October 17, 2006

FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

My curiosity about our policymakers’ grasp of Islam’s two major branches was piqued in 2005, when Jon Stewart and other TV comedians made hash out of depositions, taken in a whistleblower case, in which top F.B.I. officials drew blanks when asked basic questions about Islam. One of the bemused officials was Gary Bald, then the bureau’s counterterrorism chief. Such expertise, Mr. Bald maintained, wasn’t as important as being a good manager.

A few months later, I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about Mr. Bald’s comments. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. … Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

Of course, I hadn’t asked about reading Urdu or Mr. bin Laden’s writings.

A few weeks ago, I took the F.B.I.’s temperature again. At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau’s new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. “Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,” he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are.”

That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. “The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,” he said. “And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.”

O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,” I prompted. “Which are they?”

He took a stab: “Sunni.”


Al Qaeda? “Sunni.”


AND to his credit, Mr. Hulon, a distinguished agent who is up nights worrying about Al Qaeda while we safely sleep, did at least know that the vicious struggle between Islam’s Abel and Cain was driving Iraq into civil war. But then we pay him to know things like that, the same as some members of Congress.

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?

“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”

It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.


In Letter, GOP Rep Fears Influx of Muslims
By Paul Kiel
December 19, 2006

In a letter sent out to select supporters earlier this month reacting to the controversy (among certain extreme conservatives, at least) over Muslim representative-elect Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) decision to be sworn in on the Koran, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned that the U.S. must close its borders to guard against the influx of still more Muslims. In it, he also proudly recounts his retort to a Muslim student who asked him why he did not include the Koran with The Ten Commandments on his wall. “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office,” he says he told the student.

The letter, which by some horrible error in Goode’s office was sent to the chair of the local Sierra Club chapter, was obtained by Charlottesville’s C-Ville Weekly. Goode’s spokesman, after correcting my pronunciation of his boss’ name (it rhymes with “food”) refused to expand beyond Goode’s comment to the Weekly of “I wrote the letter. I think it speaks for itself,” although I was invited to fax in a question to the congressman.

“[I]f American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran,” the letter reads. “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The text of the letter:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.


word now is that there is, indeed, going to be a drunk puppet night, and it will be held in the rebar, which is the place it was originally – which is to say that that’s where it has been since i have been involved with it, with the exception of last year, which is going on 4 years now. no word has been heard yet about when, although the phil has been invited to perform as well. i haven’t heard it from josh directly, but i have heard it from several trusted sources.

presumably somebody has communicated with seanjohn, because it is my recollection that the end of march is when he was hoping to resurrect the late night cabaret, and that is also the same time that the moisture festival will be happening. if not, we’re just opening ourselves up to a whole new level of confusion and frustration.

we’re trying to avoid the mass quantities of confusion and frustration with the moisture festival this year by making it more clear what we, as artists, expect from the shows, but judging by what i know of RB, particularly, i’m not holding out much hope that it’s going to be as "organised" as it was last year…

the reason i haven’t posted for the past 3 days

blurdge blurdge blurdge blurdge blurdge
blurdge blurdge blurdge blurdge blurdge
blurdge blurdge blurdge blurdge  

we didn’t have any electricity for 4 days. the storm happened thursday night, and they didn’t get around to fixing the electricity until yesterday… but electricity doesn’t do very much good unless there’s also network connectivity, which came about this morning.

we slept in the living room, next to the wood stove. it was cold enough that paddy and allie, who normally won’t sleep anywhere close to another animal, were sleeping in very close proximity to cats and dogs… and our gay cats finally came out of the closet.


i went to miles and karina’s 2nd cd release party yesterday, and there i saw josh, who is responsible for drunk puppet night. i didn’t actually ask him, but the rumour that i have heard is that there will be no drunk puppet night this year. this is not entirely a bad thing, although it will be sad not to have the shows.

i also saw seanjohn, who was dressed in a “rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” fursuit, which immediately reminded me of st. , patron of inflatable reindeer. he was on his way to a paying gig, crashing a corporate party, and the reindeer costume was part of the joke. according to a conversation i had with seanjohn and josh, there is potentially a new “late night cabaret” forming in march or thereabouts. this is a very good thing, and would be even better if it were to start in january or february, which isn’t entirely out of the question.


Is Abandoning the Internet "The Next Big Thing"
May 12th, 2004
by John Walker

Bad Neighbourhood
In 1970-1971 I used to live in a really bad neighbourhood. In the space of two years I was held up three times, twice by the same guy. (One’s sense of etiquette fails in such circumstances–what do you say: “New gun?”) Once I found a discarded sofa cushion outside my apartment building and, being perennially short on seating for guests, rescued it from the trash man. After bringing it inside and whacking it to liberate some of the dust prior to vacuuming, I heard a little “ker-tink” sound on the floor. Three times. These turned out to be caused by .22 calibre bullets whose entry holes were visible upon closer examination of the pillow. I know not whether this ballast was added while it was sitting on the sidewalk or in the apartment of the neighbour who threw it away. The sound of gunfire wasn’t all that rare on Saturday nights there, then.

Getting Out of Dodge
Looking back on that time, I don’t recall any sense of chronic fear or paranoia, but there’s a low level edginess which slowly grinds you down. Now, I could have gotten a large, intimidating dog, put bars on the apartment window and motion detectors inside with triple deadlocks on the door, a concealed carry permit and suitable heat to pack, Kevlar vest for going out after dark, etc., etc. Instead, immediately I received a raise which permitted it, I decided to get out of Dodge, as it were, trading 50% higher rent for a sense of security which freed me to worry about career-related matters instead of whether my career was about to be abruptly truncated due to collision with rapidly moving metallic projectiles.

The Internet Slum
I’ve come to view today’s Internet as much like the bad neighbourhood I used to inhabit. It wasn’t always that way–in fact, as recently as a few years ago, the Internet seemed like a frontier town–a little rough on the edges, with its share of black hats, but also with the sense of open-ended possibility that attracted pioneers of all sorts, exploring and expanding the cutting edge in all directions: technological, economic, social, political, and artistic. But today’s Internet isn’t a frontier any more–it’s a slum. (I use “Internet” here to refer to the culture of the Web, E-mail, newsgroups, and other services based upon the underlying packet transport network. I have nothing against packet switching networks in general nor the Internet infrastructure in particular.)

One Fine Day at Fourmilab
What’s it like living today in the Internet slum? What comes down that pipe into your house from the outside world? Here’s a snapshot, taken on March 31st, 2004, a completely typical day in all regards. The Web site racked up 682,516 hits in 56,412 visits from 44,776 distinct sites (IP addresses), delivering 14.8 gigabytes of content. That’s, of course, not counting the traffic generated by the Distributed Denial of Service Attack underway since late January 2004. Whoever is responsible for this attack bombarded the site with a total of 1,473,602 HTTP request packets originating from 1951 hosts all around the world. These packets were blocked by the Gardol attack detector and packet blocker I spent much of February developing instead of doing productive work. Well, the attack this day was only half as intense as during the first wave in January. Entirely apart from this recent denial of service attack is the routine attack against Earth and Moon Viewer in which robots attempt to overload the server and/or outbound bandwidth by making repeated requests for large custom images. This attack has been underway for several years despite its impact having been entirely mitigated by countermeasures installed in October 2001; still they keep trying. This day a total of 3700 of these attacks originating from 342 distinct hosts were detected and blocked.

Mail and Spam per month: 2000-2004

Moving from the Web to that other Internet mainstay, E-mail, let’s take a peek at the traffic on good old port 25. This day I received 8 E-mail messages from friends and colleagues around the globe. Isn’t E-mail great? But that’s not all that arrived that day. . . . First of all, we have the 629 messages which were blocked as originating at IP addresses known to be open SMTP relays which permit mass junk mailers to forge the origin of their garbage. Open relays, whether due to misconfiguration or operated as a matter of principle by self-described civil libertarians, are the E-mail equivalent of leaving a live hand grenade in an elementary school playground. A peek at the sendmail log shows a total of 6,444 “dictionary spams” attempted that day. These are hosts which connect to your mail server and try names from huge lists of names culled from directories used by spammers in the hope of hitting a valid address which can be sent spam and then re-sold to other spammers. A total of 275 E-mail messages made it past these filters into the hands of sendmail for delivery, being addressed to a valid user name in my domain, usually the E-mail address which I take care not to publish on any of my Web pages. Of these, a total of 259 were correctly identified as spam by Annoyance Filter, the adaptive Bayesian junk mail filter I spent two months developing in 2002 instead of doing productive work. A total of 8 junk mail messages were “false negatives”–misclassified as legitimate mail by Annoyance Filter (in all likelihood because I hadn’t recently re-trained the filter with a collection of contemporary spam) and made it to my mailbox. This day’s collection of junk mail included a total of 74 attempts to corrupt my computer with destructive worm software, thereby to enlist it in further propagating the corruption. Since the machine on which I read mail uses none of the vulnerable Microsoft products these programs exploit, they pose no risk to me, but consider how many people with computers which are at risk without the filtering tools and the more than 35 years of computing experience I bring to the arena withstand this daily assault. This day there wasn’t a single criminal fraud attempt to obtain my credit card number or other financial identity information; this was a light day; usually there’s one or two. Absent the open relay block list and Annoyance Filter, I would be forced to sort through a total of 896 pieces of junk mail to read the 8 messages I wish to receive. Isn’t E-mail great?

Ever since 1996, when a dysfunctional superannuated adolescent exploited a vulnerability in the ancient version of Solaris I then ran on my Web server to break into the server and corrupt my Web site, I’ve kept the local network here at Fourmilab behind a firewall configured with all the (abundant) paranoia I can summon. A firewall not only protects one against the barbarians, but monitoring its log lets you know which tommyknockers are knocking, knocking at your door and what keys they’re trying in the lock. One doesn’t bother logging the boring, repetitive stuff, but it’s wise to keep an eye peeled for new, innovative attacks. On this day, the firewall log recorded a total of 1915 packets dropped–the vast majority attempts to exploit well-known vulnerabilities in Microsoft products by automated “attack robots” operated by people who have nothing better to do with their lives. That’s about one every 45 seconds.

The Tunnel in the Basement
Imagine if there were a tunnel which ran into your basement from the outside world, ending in a sturdy door with four or five high-security locks which anybody could approach completely anonymously. A mail slot in the door allows you to receive messages and news delivered through the tunnel, but isn’t big enough to allow intruders to enter. Now imagine that every time you go down into your basement, you found several hundred letters piled up in a snowdrift extending from the mail slot, and that to find the rare messages from your friends and family you had to sort through reams of pornography of the most disgusting kind, solicitations for criminal schemes, “human engineered” attempts to steal your identity and financial information, and the occasional rat, scorpion, or snake slipped through the slot to attack you if you’re insufficiently wary. You don’t allow your kids into the basement any more for fear of what they may see coming through the slot, and you’re worried by the stories of people like yourself who’ve had their basements filled with sewage or concrete spewed through the mail slot by malicious “pranksters”.

Further, whenever you’re in the basement you not only hear the incessant sound of unwanted letters and worse dropping through the mail slot, but every minute or so you hear somebody trying a key or pick in one of your locks. As a savvy basement tunnel owner, you make a point of regularly reading tunnel security news to learn of “exploits” which compromise the locks you’re using so you can update your locks before miscreants can break in through the tunnel. You may consider it wise to install motion detectors in your basement so you’re notified if an intruder does manage to defeat your locks and gain entry.

As the risks of basement tunnels make the news more and more often, industry and government begin to draw up plans to “do something” about them. A new “trusted door” scheme is proposed, which will replace the existing locks and mail slot with “inherently secure” versions which you’re not allowed to open up and examine, whose master keys are guarded by commercial manufacturers and government agencies entirely deserving of your trust.

You may choose to be patient, put up with the inconveniences and risks of your basement tunnel until you can install that trusted door. Or, you may simply decide that what comes through the tunnel isn’t remotely worth the aggravation it creates and dynamite the whole thing, reclaiming your basement for yourself.

Abandon the Internet?
Is it time to start thinking about abandoning the Internet? Well, I’ve pondered that option at some length, and I’m not alone. Donald Knuth, who’s always at least a decade ahead of everybody else, abandoned E-mail on January 1st, 1990, saying “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” Harry Schultz, one of the wisest observers of the financial and geopolitical scene, advised abandoning E-mail in favour of FAX more than a year ago. While few people have explicitly announced their retirement from the Internet, I suspect that more and more parents are loath to provide Internet access to their children, knowing that their mailboxes will be filled every day with hundreds of disgusting messages. People of all sorts simply walk away from the Internet after suffering the repellent pop-ups and attacks by spyware installed on their computers. You won’t see this as a downturn in people on the Internet, at least right away, but keep your eye on the second derivative.

Another trend I expect to emerge is an attempt to re-create the Internet of a decade ago by erecting virtual barriers to keep out the rabble. When I’m feeling down I call it “Internet Gated Communities”, when in an optimistic mood, “The Faculty Club”. This may lead to what many observers refer to as “the Balkanisation of the Internet”–a fragmentation of the “goes everywhere, reaches everybody” vision of the global nervous system into disconnected communities. This may not be such a bad thing. Yes, we will not end up with a ubiquitous global wired community. But if you want to get an idea what that might actually look like, here’s a little experiment you can try. Turn off your spam filter and read all the spam you get in a day, including visiting the Web sites they direct you to. Now imagine that, multiplied by a factor of about a hundred. Welcome to the electronic global slum! I am one of those despicable people who believe that IQ not only exists but matters. From the origin of the Internet through the mid 1990s, I’d estimate the mean IQ of Internet users as about 115. Today it’s probably somewhere around 100, the mean in Europe and North America. The difference you see in the Internet of today from that of ten years ago is what one standard deviation (15 points) drop in IQ looks like. But the mean IQ of the world is a tad less than 90 today, and it’s expected to fall to about 86 by 2050. So, when the digital divide is conquered and all ten billion naked apes are wired up, you’re looking at about another standard deviation’s drop in the IQ of the Internet. Just imagine what that will be like.

Optimists point to initiatives underway to address the problems of the Internet: secure operating systems, certificate based authentication, tools for identifying abusers and legal sanctions against them, and the like. But I fear the cure may be worse than the disease, so much so that I penned a 25,000 word screed sketching the transformation of the Internet from an open network of peers to a locked-down medium for delivering commercial content to passive consumers.

I’m not ready to abandon the Internet, at least not right away. But I’m thinking about it, and I suspect I’m not alone. Those who have already abandoned it are, by that very choice, neither publishing Web pages nor posting messages about it; they are silent, visible only by their absence from the online community. Will early adopters of the Internet, who are in the best position to compare what it is today with what they connected to years ago, become early opters-out? Me, I’m keeping an eye on this trend–it could just be the next big thing.


the entire works of mozart have been digitised and made available on internet for “scholarly, personal study and for educational and classroom use”, but not to “make copies for personal use”…

so, if you and your symphony orchestra publically perform a work of mozart, and it is later discovered that you obtained the music from the neue mozart-ausgabe, you can be punished according to copyright law, but private performances are okay…

i’m sure that mozart, were he alive, would have something interesting to say about that…



i encountered this through as “33 Names of Things You Never Knew had Names“, but i was astonished to discover that, in fact, i knew what most of these things are before looking at the list… and being the geek that i am, i thought it would be interesting to find out if there are others like me. thus, i am starting the “33 Names of Things You Never Knew had Names” thing-that-everyone-calls-a-“meme”-but-which-probably-isn’t (because i’m not sure whether it really meets the definition of “meme” or whether it’s just another web quiz, and i’m a geek enough to know that there’s a pretty big difference).

the following list contains 33 unusual words, which are actual words and not things that i made up. put an asterisk (*) next to the ones you know without peeking at the answers, which follow.

then post it in your journal as well, to spread the joy…

  1. AGLET *
  5. DRAGÉES *
  6. FEAT *
  7. FERRULE *
  8. HARP *
  10. JARNS, *
  11. NITTLES, *
  12. GRAWLIX, *
  13. and QUIMP *
  14. KEEPER *
  15. KICK or PUNT *
  17. MINIMUS *
  18. NEF
  22. PEEN *
  26. ROWEL *
  27. SADDLE *
  28. SCROOP
  31. TANG *
  32. WAMBLE *
  33. ZARF *

  1. AGLET – The plain or ornamental covering on the end of a shoelace.
  2. ARMSAYE – The armhole in clothing.
  3. CHANKING – Spat-out food, such as rinds or pits.
  4. COLUMELLA NASI – The bottom part of the nose between the nostrils.
  5. DRAGÉES – Small beadlike pieces of candy, usually silver-coloured, used for decorating cookies, cakes and sundaes.
  6. FEAT – A dangling curl of hair.
  7. FERRULE – The metal band on a pencil that holds the eraser in place.
  8. HARP – The small metal hoop that supports a lampshade.
  9. HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVER – A 64th note. (A 32nd is a demisemiquaver, and a 16th note is a semiquaver.)
  10. JARNS,
  11. NITTLES,
  12. GRAWLIX,
  13. and QUIMP – Various squiggles used to denote cussing in comic books.
  14. KEEPER – The loop on a belt that keeps the end in place after it has passed through the buckle.
  15. KICK or PUNT – The indentation at the bottom of some wine bottles. It gives added strength to the bottle but lessens its holding capacity.
  16. LIRIPIPE – The long tail on a graduate’s academic hood.
  17. MINIMUS – The little finger or toe.
  18. NEF – An ornamental stand in the shape of a ship.
  19. OBDORMITION – The numbness caused by pressure on a nerve; when a limb is `asleep’.
  20. OCTOTHORPE – The symbol `#’ on a telephone handset. Bell Labs’ engineer Don Macpherson created the word in the 1960s by combining octo-, as in eight, with the name of one of his favourite athletes, 1912 Olympic decathlon champion Jim Thorpe.
  21. OPHRYON – The space between the eyebrows on a line with the top of the eye sockets.
  22. PEEN – The end of a hammer head opposite the striking face.
  23. PHOSPHENES – The lights you see when you close your eyes hard. Technically the luminous impressions are due to the excitation of the retina caused by pressure on the eyeball.
  24. PURLICUE – The space between the thumb and extended forefinger.
  25. RASCETA – Creases on the inside of the wrist.
  26. ROWEL – The revolving star on the back of a cowboy’s spurs.
  27. SADDLE – The rounded part on the top of a matchbook (it’s also the rounded part on the back – or “spine” – of a book).
  28. SCROOP – The rustle of silk.
  29. SNORKEL BOX – A mailbox with a protruding receiver to allow people to deposit mail without leaving their cars.
  30. SPRAINTS – Otter dung.
  31. TANG – The projecting prong on a tool or instrument.
  32. WAMBLE – Stomach rumbling.
  33. ZARF – A holder for a handleless coffee cup.


i’ve been keeping track. this month, i have received 1454 spam messages this month, which is an average of 133 a day. it’s getting so that i have to warn potential customers and new contacts to put something distinctive in the subject line so that they don’t get spam-filtered, and frequently they do anyway. i’ve not received (potentially spam filtered) messages from my own wife in the past few days, and i think i may have spam-filtered at least two legitimate customers as well. the biggest culprit has also involved chinese characters in the subject line and something in the message which makes KMail crash when i select it, which is one reason i have been toying with the idea of upgrading to a newer version of linux, as mandrake 9.2 is around three years old now. i haven’t been able to figure out what, though, because the message contains nothing but unescaped unicode characters. these messages, combined with the fact that i don’t get that many email messages anyway, have caused me to think about just not having an email address any longer. the only problem is what to do about the incense business… 8P

Gates: Spam To Be Canned By 2006
January 24, 2004

(AP) A spam-free world by 2006? That’s what Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates is promising.

“Two years from now, spam will be solved,” he told a select group of World Economic Forum participants at this Alpine ski resort. “And a lot of progress this year,” he added at the event late Friday, hosted by U.S. talk show host Charlie Rose.

Gates said Microsoft, where he has the title of chief software designer, is working on a solution based on the concept of “proof,” or identifying the sender of the e-mail.

One method involves a human challenge, or requiring the sender of an electronic pitch to solve a puzzle that only a flesh-and-blood person can handle. Another is a so-called “computational puzzle” that a computer sending only a few messages could easily handle, but that would be prohibitively expensive for a mass-mailer.

But the most promising, Gates said, was a method that would hit the sender of an e-mail in the pocketbook.

People would set a level of monetary risk – low or high, depending on their choice – for receiving e-mail from strangers. If the e-mail turns out to be from a long-lost relative, for example, the recipient would charge nothing. But if it is unwanted spam, the sender would have to fork over the cash.

“In the long run, the monetary (method) will be dominant,” Gates predicted.

He conceded, however, that his prognostications have not always been on the mark. Notable misjudgments include the rising popularity of open-source software, epitomized by Linux, and the success of the Google search engine.

“They kicked our butts,” he said, while promising a better next-generation Internet search engine from Microsoft, due as early as next year.

At the forum itself, Gates announced a partnership with the United Nations to bring computer technology and literacy to developing countries.

Drawing on a $1 billion Microsoft fund, the U.S. software giant will work with the U.N. Development Program to provide software, computer training and cash to establish computer centers in poor communities, starting with pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco.

Gates told a news conference the centers would not have to use only Microsoft products.

Egypt’s minister of communication and information technology, Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, welcomed the help, noting that about 500 to 600 centers have already been set up in Egypt.

Gates told the smaller group he thought Microsoft’s team of software engineers was outrunning the hackers that have caused havoc by unleashing increasingly destructive viruses to attack networked computers. But he said it was tough to stay ahead. “If only the bad guys would just do the same stuff they did last year,” he moaned.

While the Windows desktop operating system has become a “very powerful standard,” he said Microsoft was more open today about its source code to allow other companies to develop competing products. That was partly due, he said, to the rise of Linux and antitrust actions in the United States and Europe.

Gates said he had not met with European Union antitrust commissioner Mario Monti, who is also attending the forum in Davos, but would be willing to if it would help settle the long-running EU antitrust case against Microsoft.

EU regulators charge that Microsoft’s decision to tie its Media Player into Windows, which runs about 90 percent of desktop computers, “weakens competition on the merits, stifles product innovation and ultimately reduces consumer choice.”

They are threatening fines that could reach up to $3 billion, as well as a far-reaching order for Microsoft to strip the multimedia application from Windows to give rivals such as RealNetworks’ RealPlayer or Apple’s Quicktime more of a chance.

“We’re doing what we can to come to some amicable settlement,” Gates said.

After three days of hearings last November, the European Commission is expected to issue its decision early this year.

The meaning of spam
By Annalee Newitz

I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering why my spam looks the way it does. Until quite recently, I received about 20,000 spam e-mails every day. The poor little Bayesean filter in my Thunderbird e-mail program couldn’t keep up and would routinely barf when confronted with such huge piles of crap from “Nuclear R. Accomplishment” with the subject line “$subject” and a message body full of random quotes from Beowulf.

Before I finally fixed my spam problem — oh blissfully small inbox! — I developed a few vaguely paranoid theories. Briefly, I imagined spammers were spying on my inbox and culling sender names from it that matched those of my friends. In my saner moments, I would wonder why exactly spam evolved to look the way it does. Why do spammers keep sending me pictures of pink, bouncy letters that spell “mortgage,” followed by text from a random Web site? And why, oh why, do they send me e-mails containing nothing but the cryptic line, “he said from the doorway, where she”? How can that be good business sense?

So I called expert Daniel Quinlan, who is an antispam architect at Ironport Systems as well as a contributor to open-source antispam system Spam Assassin. He patiently listened to me rant about my e-mail problems — I think antispam experts are sort of like geek therapists — then explained why I receive spam from random dictionary words strung together into a name like Elephant Q. Thermodynamic. It’s done to fool any spam filter that refuses to receive e-mail from somebody who has already sent you spam in the past. “They want to create a name that your spam filter has never seen before,” Quinlan said. It turns out every weirdness in my spam is “probably there for a good reason,” he said. In the arms race between spammers and antispammers, spammers try every trick they can to circumvent filtering software.

Often, the spam you get is the result of months or years of this arms race. For example, spammers of yesteryear started sending images instead of text, so that spam filters looking for text like “viagra” would be fooled. Instead, the image would contain the word “viagra,” but filters would see only an image and let it through. In response, antispam software began tossing e-mails that contained only an image, since spam containing an image typically has some text with it like “check out my pictures from Hawaii” or whatever. Rarely does a real person send just an image.

Quinlan said spammers figured out their pictures were being chucked, so they started adding a few random words to their mail and got through the filters again. Then antispammers started chucking e-mails with images that also contained random words that didn’t make sentences. And that’s why, today, you get images with chunks of text taken from random books and Web sites. As long as the text fits into sentences and isn’t random words strung together, spam filters have a harder time figuring out if the mail is spam or ham. Spammers also send slightly different images every time, so that spam filters can’t identify the image itself as spam. And they fill the images with bouncy, pink letters advertising their crap because character recognition software can’t read bouncy letters. So any spam filter that uses character recognition software to look at text in images to find spam will be fooled.

OK, so there is a reason behind the madness. But how could Quinlan explain the spam I get that contains no advertisement for anything, no links nor images, and instead merely quotes some random passage from Dostoyevsky? Quinlan said there’s no way to know for sure, but the reigning theory among antispam experts is that it’s part of what’s called a “directory harvest attack” in which the spammer tries to figure out if there’s a real person behind a randomly chosen e-mail address. The spammer sends out millions of innocuous e-mails and may get a slightly different response from the mail server if the mail has reached an actual person. Once the spammer has established that certain addresses are valid, he can send his real spam and be sure that he’s reaching an inbox.

All of this sounds perfectly reasonable. Spammers are doing bizarro things to get their messages out. But why do I sometimes get a spam with the subject line “$subject”? Why would I ever be fooled into thinking that was a piece of legitimate e-mail? “That’s just some spammer who doesn’t know how to use his spamware,” Quinlan said. “Sometimes spammers do things that are — for lack of a better word — dumb.”


i was in the house that has been a part of many recurring dreams over the years, which is an abandoned house that you reach by “walking to the canadian border” where there is a huge suspension bridge that you have to cross over to get into canada. once you have navigated the maze of inspectors and suchlike to get through the border, the house is the first one you get to once you cross the bridge. it is actually underneath the bridge abutment, and, because of the fact that it is abandoned, you actually have to climb off the bridge and drop down to ground level, and then go down a driveway towards the water, and jump over a fence to reach it.

except that this time i had my bike – a bike i had when i was in high school – and the house was actually occupied by a “family” of hippies who hadn’t cleaned up or repaired anything to make it more habitable. i remember actually telling one of the hippies that i had been to the house before, many times, and it had been abandoned previously. the hippy’s response was to say that they had moved into the house comparatively recently, because there was no place else for them to live. the house was considerably more “messed up” than it had been before, with piles of dirt and garbage all over the place, although they had the beginnings of a really nice garden, and a large grow room full of big, juicy buds that were waiting for harvest, and the kitchen, while not exactly clean, was in far better shape than it had been in my previous dreams about the house. there were around five of these hippies, including at least one woman, who i saw but didn’t talk to. they were all “older” hippies, although they could have been young and just had bad teeth and skin conditions, or something like that. i got stoned with a couple of them, and their buds were, indeed, fat, juicy and potent. i recall being intensely curious about the fact that i had been in the house previously (it was almost like lucid dreaming, but not quite… i was aware of the fact that i had been dreaming my previous visits to the house, but not that i was currently dreaming), before it was inhabited, and poked around quite a bit. one of the places that i poked around in was a place that i recalled having been in previously, was now the “bedroom” for one of the hippies, and a good deal more “messed up” than it had been previously, with a temporary wall built of concrete blocks and boards, with a blanket over them.

finally, i decided to go… back? home? i’m not sure, but wherever it was that i was headed was, ultimately, going to take me back over the bridge to the united states. leaving the house, at this point, involved climbing over enormous piles of trash and garbage that had accumulated outside of the kitchen, and when i had gotten over that, i discovered that my bike was missing. there were several other bikes there, but mine was not. i went back into the house, over the enormous piles of trash, and found one of the hippies, who offered to get me more stoned. i am not one to ever turn down marijuana, but i was a little frustrated when i told him that my bike was missing and he totally ignored me, so i found another hippie, who joined us getting stoned. he said that if my bike was missing, just take one of the other bikes that was there, but my bike was brand new, and the bikes that were there were ones that had “been around the block a few times” and were old, ratty, and not very well maintained.