Beatles to Re-Release Stripped Down Album

Friday, January 31st, 2003

I feel like a bad Beatles fan. I didn’t even know that Phil “Wall of Sound” Spector produced the original “Let it Be” album. According to Beatles to Re-Release Stripped Down Album, a newly “de-Spectorized” version will come out in the fall:

The surviving Beatles are planning to re-release “Let It Be” the way they intended: stripped down. The album will have the same track listing, but it will not have the orchestration that producer Phil Spector added to it after the band broke up.

Italy Arrests 28 Pakistanis in Al-Qaeda Linked Bust

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Wow. Italy Arrests 28 Pakistanis in Al-Qaeda Linked Bust reports some scary (but good) news:

Military police burst into an apartment in central Naples on Wednesday night as part of a routine sweep against illegal immigration and ended up discovering enough explosives to blow up a three-story building, officials said on Friday.

They arrested all 28 men staying in the apartment after finding 800 grams (28 ounces) of explosives, 230 feet of fuse and various electronic detonators crammed behind a false wall.

Islamic religious texts, photos of “jihad” (holy war) martyrs, piles of false documents, maps of the Naples area, addresses of contacts around the world and more than 100 mobile telephones were also found in the run-down lodgings, police said.

I’m perplexed by the Pakistani ambassador’s response:

Pakistan’s ambassador to Italy, Zafar Hilali, denied the men were terrorists and said the arrests appeared to form part of a campaign of targeting innocent Pakistanis living in Italy.

“According to my information none of (these men) had anything whatsoever to do with terrorism, none of them had anything like explosives,” he told Pakistan TV.

Young Psychiatrists Prefer Couch to Using Medications

Friday, January 31st, 2003

I read this in my paper copy of the Journal, and I just found an on-line copy, Young Psychiatrists Prefer Couch to Using Medications. It says a lot about the psychiatric profession:

Psychiatrists in training feel a strong stigma in their profession against people who are taking antidepressants and other medications, even though about one-fifth of the training psychiatrists are themselves on medication, according to a survey of psychiatric residents in New York.

Army Places Gigantic Wager On Revamped Patriot Missile

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Army Places Gigantic Wager On Revamped Patriot Missile gives a thorough account of the Patriot missile’s history (and current status):

For many Americans, the bright green explosions of Iraqi Scud missiles and Patriot interceptors provided the most memorable images of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Washington seized on the Patriots as a symbol of how its technical prowess was key to winning modern wars. A Patriot missile launcher even accompanied the victorious troops in a Manhattan ticker-tape parade.

But a decade later, Defense Secretary William Cohen said just before leaving office that the Patriot “didn’t work.”[...]The stunning TV images for the most part showed Patriots and erratic, often-malfunctioning Scuds exploding independently of one another.

Not very reassuring.

The latest Patriot, the Army says, is a big improvement over the old model, which knocked down missiles by exploding in their flight path. The new version destroys enemy missiles by slamming into them, a method known as “hit to kill.”

Army and industry officials say the force of the collision, which the original Patriots couldn’t deliver, allows the new models to dissipate chemical or biological warheads on impact.

If the old missiles couldn’t even place high-explosives close enough to a Scud to hit it with shrapnel, what are the odds that the new missiles can “hit a bullet with a bullet” and slam right into a Scud?

The PAC-3s [the new Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles] currently cost about $2.7 million each, though the cost is expected to be between $1 million and $2 million once full production begins.

By contrast, the Scud, based on a 1960s-era Soviet design, is about as cheap as a missile comes nowadays.

I have to wonder how much damage one Patriot even prevents — when it works. Does a Scud do millions of dollars of damage? If a Patriot takes out a Scud one time in four, that’s $10 million or so it’s costing to stop a Scud. Would it be cheaper to evacuate everybody within Scud range and buy them new homes?

I find this telling:

Israel, which relied on the Patriot during the Gulf War, isn’t taking any chances. With U.S. funding and technical backing, Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., a government-owned company, has designed its own missile-defense system, which is intended to intercept enemy missiles at an even higher altitude than the PAC-3. The $2 billion system, known as “Arrow,” has been fielded at Palmachim Air Force Base near Tel Aviv and near the city of Hadera.

They’re the ones with everything on the line, and they’re building their own missile system.

By the way, the very first Patriot missile system wasn’t even designed to shoot down other missiles:

The original system, first deployed in West Germany in 1985, was designed to shoot down Soviet bombers. It was never used in combat.

NBC Sports Maps Future Without the Big Leagues

Friday, January 31st, 2003

As NBC Sports Maps Future Without the Big Leagues points out, big-league sports broadcasts aren’t earning back the big-league fees they cost, and networks are turning to smaller sports:

Fed up with the rising costs of televising big sports, NBC has decided to go small. The network thinks its deal with the Arena Football League, a 16-year-old operation with teams in cities from Buffalo, N.Y., to Los Angeles, could be the model for a new fiscal sanity in sports TV.

Oddly, the article doesn’t bring up the XFL for a long, long time, until practically the end:

A big challenge has been avoiding comparisons with NBC’s last football venture, the sex-, violence- and bravado-filled flop of 2001, the XFL. NBC Sports executives concede that the XFL, a joint venture with World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., embarrassed the network. But it also taught NBC how not to promote an alternative football league.

At a production seminar last week in advance of the AFL debut, Mr. Ebersol told 60 staffers and freelancers that the public didn’t perceive the XFL as legitimate. By contrast, Mr. Ebersol said, arena football has been around a decade and a half. “There’s no need for hyping,” he said.

To that end, NBC is playing the AFL straight. Its promos prominently mention that the league is in “Season 17.” It has hired veteran announcers like Pat Haden and Al Trautwig, in contrast to former Minnesota governor and onetime professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, who worked XFL games. Says longtime NBC Sports director John Gonzalez, “We’re not going to have [cameramen] running out there in the middle of plays.” That happened in the XFL.

What they don’t mention is that the XFL still scored higher ratings than the NHL (which doesn’t get mentioned at all).

Hidden Treasures Lurk In Ruin of Berlin Museum

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Astonishing. According to Hidden Treasures Lurk In Ruin of Berlin Museum, one of the greatest museums in the world goes largely forgotten (and unfunded), full of unexamined finds from ages past:

Mr. Heinrich’s good fortune, however, stems from the museum’s subsequent years of misfortune. Two world wars and four decades of communist neglect left it a wreck. As a result, findings from decades-old excavations, including the Tendaguru trip, lie unstudied in bamboo crates in the basement — a treasure trove for scientists such as Mr. Heinrich, but one that faces a threat.
[...]
Up in Mr. Heinrich’s cramped office, the walls are covered with faded black-and-white photos of the Tendaguru expedition. A 20,000-year-old mammal tusk rests among papers on a table.

At his desk, Mr. Heinrich peered into a microscope at the mammal teeth he found in the basement a few years back. The triangular, brown teeth and a jaw were clearly visible. His find was important evidence that mammals co-existed with dinosaurs at a time and place where few mammal remains had been found. “The fact that objects from the Tendaguru beds have been lying undiscovered in this building for so long amazes me,” says Mr. Heinrich.

In 1909, a German mining engineer in what was then German East Africa stumbled across a dinosaur bone exposed by rain. The Berlin museum mobilized a massive expedition, hiring more than 900 workers on sites covering a 1,300-square-mile area. After four years of work, the team lugged more than 250 tons of petrified dinosaur bones back to Berlin, one of the largest discoveries in the history of paleontology.

Pirates in China Move Fast In Stealing New Toy Designs

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Pirates in China Move Fast In Stealing New Toy Designs intriguing on multiple levels:

The fact that toy makers can face instant copies at toy fairs is the Catch-22 of the $11 billion-a-year business. Hong Kong’s proximity to the cheap but skilled labor base in China makes it a snap to duplicate a toy. The global toy industry is still looking for a fail-safe way to protect designs from Chinese copies without curbing its addiction to Chinese labor.

Today, China makes 70% of the world’s toys and accounts for 49% of all counterfeit seizures in the U.S. by the Customs Service. Since China’s admission into the World Trade Organization, U.S. trade officials have prodded the nation to take firmer steps against design theft, which mires companies in costly copyright disputes and guts their ability to compete.

First, I knew that toys were big business, but $11 billion a year sounds really big to me. You’d think they’d put out better toys with that kind of money involved. Second, if renegade Chinese toymakers are going to crank out knockoffs of your product line, maybe you need to harness that somehow. Maybe you can leak your Stormtrooper action-figure design, so cheap armies are affordable. Then you charge a premium price for the name characters — who are now more fun to play with, since they can finally wade through an army of cannon fodder.

Videocameras, Too, Can Lie — or at Least Create Prejudice

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Videocameras, Too, Can Lie — or at Least Create Prejudice discusses a fascinating psychological phenomenon, illusory causation:

Almost three decades of research in both lab and real-world settings shows that when people witness an interaction, they tend to attribute causality to events or individuals that are more noticeable. When people see two individuals chatting, for instance, and if they have a better angle on Mr. A than Mr. B, they conclude that Mr. A shaped the tone and direction of the conversation and caused Mr. B to respond as he did.
[...]
“They judged videotaped confessions recorded with the camera focused on the suspect as more voluntary than videos focused equally on the suspect and interrogator, even when the content was identical.”
[...]
“In one instance, the simple change from an equal-focus confession to a suspect-focus confession doubled the ‘conviction’ rate,” says Prof. Lassiter.

India Plans Cloning to Revive Extinct Cheetah

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Evidently India’s out of cheetahs but still has a few leopards left. According to India Plans Cloning to Revive Extinct Cheetah:

A leading Indian research institute has asked Iran to loan it a pair of cheetahs or offer some cells to clone an animal that has been extinct in India for about half a century, its chief said on Friday.
[...]
He said an Indian leopard could serve as a surrogate mother for a cloned cheetah, adding that although the Iranian cheetahs were small in number they were identical to the species that disappeared from India.

Babies’ Mental Delay Tied to Moms’ Vegan Diet

Friday, January 31st, 2003

More evidence the “healthy” vegan diet isn’t so healthy, from Babies’ Mental Delay Tied to Moms’ Vegan Diet:

The breast-fed infants of two mothers who did not eat any animal products, including milk and eggs, developed brain abnormalities as a result of a vitamin-B12 deficiency, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Thursday.

The primary sources of vitamin B12, which is essential for brain development, are animal products like meat, dairy products and eggs. Since the mothers ate little or no animal products, too little vitamin B12 was transmitted to their children through breast milk, according to the CDC’s Dr. Maria Elena Jefferds.

Troubled Power Project Plays Role in North Korea Showdown

Thursday, January 30th, 2003

It’s almost as if North Korea’s dictatorship is using the threat of nuclear weapons to extort aid from richer countries… From Troubled Power Project Plays Role in North Korea Showdown:

Under a 1994 agreement, Pyongyang promised to halt its efforts to build nuclear weapons. In return, the U.S. agreed to help build two light-water reactors for power generation to be overseen by international inspectors — the only swap North Korea would accept. The deal also called for the U.S. and North Korea to restore full diplomatic and economic ties, a step Pyongyang saw as crucial to jump-starting its moribund economy.

Lion Rips Woman’s Arm Off

Thursday, January 30th, 2003

In case you haven’t heard, lions are big, carnivorous beasts that will happily eat irksome tourists — or whatever parts of those tourists they can reach. Lion Rips Woman’s Arm Off explains:

A lioness in a Spanish animal sanctuary ripped the right arm off a British tourist after the 54-year old woman clambered up a barrier and stuck her fingers inside the cage, local media reported.

“The lady climbed up the three-meter high barrier…She climbed to the top and stuck her fingers inside the enclosure. Then Martha, one of the lionesses, grabbed her fingers, tugged her in and ripped her arm off,” Serafin Domenech, owner of El Arca sanctuary near Alicante in southeast Spain, told state television Wednesday.

You’re shaking your head too, right?

‘Cyclops’-like remains found on Crete

Thursday, January 30th, 2003

Elephant Skull (University of Edinburgh)Researchers found bits of a proto-elephant on Crete, according to ‘Cyclops’-like remains found on Crete:

Researchers on the southern Greek island of Crete have unearthed the fossilized tusk, teeth and bones of a Deinotherium Gigantisimum, a fearsome elephant-like creature that might have given rise to ancient legends of one-eyed cyclops monsters.
[...]
A large hole in the middle of the elephant’s skull — a nasal cavity for its trunk — could have given rise to the tales of the cyclops, the ferocious mythological giant with one eye that appears in Homer’s “Odyssey” and other stories.

The connection between this find and the mythical cyclops is a bit tenuous though:

Remains of other elephant ancestors have previously been found on mainland Greece, leading some researchers to speculate that bones found by ancient Greeks may have become part of their mythology.

Singapore Plays Matchmaker, Hoping to Boost Its Birth Rate

Thursday, January 30th, 2003

I always find Singapore’s ambitious social-engineering projects darkly comical. Singapore Plays Matchmaker, Hoping to Boost Its Birth Rate describes a program that tops “caning” vandals or outlawing chewing gum:

This tiny, Type A city-state, worried by a steep decline in population growth, is trying to get its best and brightest to mate and breed with a new generation of government-sponsored dating games, some of which it has copied from American singles groups.

Government-sponsored dating games?

It’s American-style Speed Dating, sponsored by the government’s official matchmaking agency, the Social Development unit. The SDU assembles a group of men and women and pairs them off at tables. They chat for seven minutes until a bell rings, and then rotate on to a new mystery date. At the end of the session, participants write down who they’d like to meet again. If there are matches, they’ll get a date.

The SDU also organizes Zodiac Dates, in which singles try to guess each other’s astrological signs. Prizes for right answers include bath gels and restaurant vouchers.

Then there are Library Dates, in which eight men and eight women are paired off and given 45 minutes to look through bookshelves, choosing books that reflect their interests. Then they write down their impressions of each other based on the books they have chosen. Over drinks and cake, everyone gathers at a roundtable discussion to present the partner to the rest of the group.

I won’t cast aspersions on the dating games themselves — they have a certain dorky charm — but there’s something seriously creepy about a Zodiac Dates session set up by the government’s Social Development unit. Seriously creepy.

National Geographic Reveals Swimsuit Issue

Wednesday, January 29th, 2003

I found National Geographic Reveals Swimsuit Issue laugh-out-loud funny when I first read the headline. The magazine’s having a bit of fun with their photo archives:

One of the earliest photographs is from 1900, showing a Red Cross swimming instructor demonstrating strokes while propped up on a stool, wearing the cover-up swimsuit of the day, with only her head and arms uncovered. When wet, such a costume would have weighed about 22 pounds (10 kg), the magazine said.

A pair of bare backsides from Cable Beach’s “clothing optional” zone at Broome, Australia, is a more modern archival image, from 1988. Two more posteriors were shown in a 1908 shot of surveyors near a rocky pool along the Canada-Alaska border.

A photo from 1917 showed two bare-breasted women from the Marquesas Islands, “where women dressed simply for the Polynesian weather — to the dismay of Western missionaries.”

I can’t help but think of a particular Onion News in Brief item:

VOLUME 32 ISSUE 07 — 16 SEPTEMBER 1997
Sales Disappointing For First-Ever Hustler Swimsuit Issue
LOS ANGELES?Spokespersons for Larry Flynt Publications are struggling to explain the poor sales of Hustler magazine’s first annual swimsuit issue, crammed from cover to cover with beautiful young women modeling the latest sexy swimwear. “We are utterly baffled,” LFP public-relations director Kenneth Micklos said of the issue, which sold 17 newsstand copies nationwide. “Our readership demographic is overwhelmingly heterosexual and male, with a strong interest in looking at beautiful women. It’s a mystery.”