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May 26, 2008

For the amount we've spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we could've colonized Mars

Charlie's Diary: Alternative boondoggles

The direct cost to the US government of the war and occupation of Iraq — counting only funds appropriated by Congress — so far runs to roughly $523Bn.

However, that's the direct cost — money directly spent on the project. There are indirect costs, too: Joseph Stiglitz estimates the true cost of the war to be $3Tn to the United States, and $3Tn to the rest of the global economy. These are indirect costs, and factor in the long-term additional expenses that the war has accrued — everything from caring for brain-damaged soldiers for the next 50 years through to loss of economic productivity attributable to instabilities in the supply of oil from Iraq.

We can tap-dance around the indirect costs, but the direct costs (that headline figure of $523Bn) are inarguable.

So. What fun boondoggles could we have bought with either $523Bn (at the low end) or $6Tn (at the high end)?

NASA have plans for a manned Mars expedition based on the Ares spacecraft they're developing as a replacement for the Space Shuttle. Price estimates vary from $20Bn (presumably for a single round-trip) to $450Bn (presumably for a single round trip plus all the externalities, like developing the spacecraft and equipment and conducting a thorough prior reconnaissance using unmanned landers).

Either way, the direct costs of the Iraq war exceed the maximum cost estimate for a manned Mars expedition, infrastructure and all, by 20%. If we take $20Bn as the cost per mission and $450Bn as the cost to develop the technology to go there, the direct cost of the Iraq war would be sufficient to develop a gold-plated Mars expeditionary capability and send six crews of astronauts to Mars (and bring them back afterwards).

Israel has 150 nukes and the means to deliver them

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel 'has 150 nuclear weapons'

Psst! Israel has weapons of mass destruction. Pass it on!

Ex-US President Jimmy Carter has said Israel has at least 150 atomic weapons in its arsenal.

The Israelis have never confirmed they have nuclear weapons, but this has been widely assumed since a scientist leaked details in the 1980s.

Mr Carter made his comments on Israel's weapons at a press conference at the annual literary Hay Festival in Wales.

He also described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as "one of the greatest human rights crimes on earth".

What does Sex Bob-Omb really sound like?

radiomaru.lj - The Bands

Bryan Lee O'Malley asks the question, and his legion of fans responds in the comment thread.

Hanif Kureishi calls creative writing courses "the new mental hospitals"

Hay festival: Kureishi slams creative writing courses | Hay Festival | guardian.co.uk Books

"The writing courses, particularly when they have the word 'creative' in them, are the new mental hospitals. But the people are very nice."

Kureishi - whose most famous work includes The Buddha of Suburbia, My Beautiful Laundrette and The Black Album - was speaking at the Guardian Hay festival about his latest novel, Something To Tell You.

He said that he was impelled to start teaching writing by the example of his children, who have tennis lessons, piano lessons and the like. He became convinced that teaching a skill was an honourable calling: "I felt if I knew something, I should pass it on."

But he said of his students, "When I teach them, they are always better at the end - and more unhappy."

He said that creative writing courses set up false expectations among students that a literary career will inevitably follow. "The fantasy is that all the students will become successful writers - and no one will disabuse them of that.

May 25, 2008

When Twitter is down, check out whentwitterisdown.com

WHEN TWITTER IS DOWN

For up to the minute hilarity. Like, When Twitter is down, Obama wins a bicycle or When Twitter is down, find more productive ways to ignore your family.

May 24, 2008

Trailer: City of Ember

City of Ember | In Theatres 10:10:08

City of Ember is a dystopian, steampunk fantasy film starring a gaggle of kids and Bill Murray. It looks really damn fun.

Twitter refuses to uphold terms of service, deal with harassment

Ariel Waldman � Blog Archive � Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service

This is terrible. Click through to read the entire thing, including some callous emails from Twitter.

Overall, Twitter is a great platform to connect with friends and co-workers and it felt safe in an “everyone knows everyone” sort of way in the beginning. However, as with any social network that continues to grow (especially one that focuses on broadcasting messages to the masses), it opens itself up to the prospect of abuse, harassment, spam, and other types of typical Terms of Service violations. Considering the social network-sphere as it exists today, most people would assume that Twitter would be prepared to react and take action against TOS violations - their TOS page even states “(These terms of service were inspired, with permission, by Flickr.)” - Flickr being well-known for taking action on TOS violations, even when the violations are debatable.

As I found out last month, the reality of Twitter is that they refuse to warn and/or ban people who use their service to “abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users” (to quote their forth line item on their TOS page). What does this mean? In short, anyone can use Twitter to consistently harass you and ruin search results for your identity and Twitter won’t execute any means of community management.

May 23, 2008

The Zombie Hunters -- A zombie webcomic that doesn't bite

The Zombie Hunters - Updated on Mondays!

Weezer harnesses internet memes for awesome

ECTOPLASMOSIS! -- Noise du Jour Bonus du Jour: “Pork And Beans” By Weezer

I think we've posted 90% of the videos they're referencing here on the Newswire. On a quick glance I see: the numma numma kid; diet coke and mentos; the dramatic groundhog; bad karate auditions; Miss South Carolina; the Star Wars kid; peanut butter jelly time; Daft Punk; and the history of dance as performed by a stand-up comedian.

What do you see?

Mark Morford's radical magazine plan

That is not really Cameron Diaz / Of course every magazine spread has been Photoshopped. But do you know to what degree? How deep is the lie?

I have a vision. It is for a smart, sexy new upstart fashion celeb lifestyle hipster magazine and it will be a raw and shocking and anarchic thing, mostly because its radical manifesto will contain the resolute and mighty vow to be as real and authentic and photographically honest as possible in every way at all times without fail, almost.

How radical? Well, my magazine will have this one overarching rule: no Photoshopping. No professional retouching to any ad or product or grisly food item, no ridiculous digital enhancement of any celeb's face or torso or battle-scarred pelvis, no dramatic re-backgrounding, no slippery light effects or lip enhancements or ass lifts, with the possible exception of zapping a few errant nose hairs or stray gray pubes and of course excepting any shot containing Ashlee Simpson or Tom Cruise or Adam Sandler, who will be eliminated from any photo completely and replaced with a feral squirrel or perhaps some nice shrubbery.

There will be pimples. There will be blemishes. There will be wrinkles and scars and flab and sag, stretch marks and cigarette burns and age spots and syringe holes and bone spurs and dark circles and giant moles and droopy kneecaps and asymmetry galore. Won't that be wonderful? Won't that be refreshing?

America is torturing children and raping them

George Washington's Blog: Congratulations, America ... Children are Being Tortured in Your Name

This post is a round-up of articles about American torture. There is evidence from the FBI that war crimes are being committed at Guantanamo. There are tapes of American soldiers raping children for punishment in Abu Ghraib, children whom it is illegal under international law to imprison.

There is also ample evidence showing that torture is not a useful way to extract information, and that the often-trotted-out "ticking time bomb scenario" has never happened. Ever. Torture is a punishment. It is evil. And we are doing it.

Senate passes bill to force contractors to pay their taxes, stop hiding in shell companies

Senate OK's bill barring contractors from avoiding tax - The Boston Globe

Is this veto-bait?

KBR and virtually every contractedc company we use in the two wars we're fighting uses a series of shell companies based on caribbean islands to avoid paying any taxes.

WASHINGTON - The Senate yesterday passed by unanimous consent a bill prohibiting federal contractors from avoiding Social Security and Medicare taxes by hiring workers through offshore shell companies. more stories like this

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives also voted unanimously to ban the practice, used by former Halliburton subsidiary KBR to avoid payroll taxes for more than 10,000 American workers in Iraq.

The bill, which appears to have veto-proof support, now goes to President Bush. The White House has not indicated whether he supports it.

Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who cosponsored the bill with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, said the money gained by closing the payroll tax loophole will help pay the cost of a tax relief package for veterans that was also included in yesterday's bill.

One of the stupidest weapons ever designed: the nuclear rifle

M65 Recoiless Nuclear Rifle

It's a rifle that fires a mini-nuke up to 3 miles. But the resulting explosion, fallout and death spreads more than 3 miles from the point of impact. There was no way to fire it without giving yourself and everyone around you a lethal dose of awful.

How to: Promote your paperback novel

YouTube - book launch 2.0

(via Scalzi)