Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gary McKinnon, British computer hacker, loses appeal over US extradition

Gary McKinnon

(David Bebber/The Times)

Gary McKinnon claimed he had hacked into the Pentagon to look for information on UFOs

Gary McKinnon stands accused of becoming the most accomplished computer hacker in history by crashing the United States army network, but claims only to have been pursuing a fascination with aliens.

The 42-year-old unemployed systems analyst, who broke into US military computers from his bedroom in Wood Green, North London, faces at least ten years in a US jail. He has always claimed that he was seeking information on UFOs and aliens.

He lost his final appeal against extradition yesterday after the law lords were told that he rejected a plea bargain in which he was offered a shorter prison sentence of three or four years in return for pleading guilty. The law lords dismissed Mr McKinnon’s claim that threats made against him by US prosecutors amounted to an abuse of process and refused to quash extradition procedings against him.

Mr McKinnon admits accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers. US prosecutors also allege that he shut down and rendered inoperable 300 computers at a US navy weapons station at a critical time, immediately after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. His only hope is to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to put a “stay” on proceedings, pending consideration of his case.

Mr McKinnon said last night that he was sorry for his actions but felt the US reaction was disproportionate. He described his actions as “misguided” but said it felt “like a moral crusade”. He said he had not damaged the computer systems, as the US claimed, but had highlighted security problems.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m extremely sorry I did it, but I think the reaction is completely overstated. I should face a penalty in Britain and I’d gladly do my time here. To go from, you know, perhaps a year or two in a British jail to 60 years in an American prison is ridiculous.”

Karen Todner, his solicitor, said: “Gary McKinnon is neither a terrorist, nor a terrorist sympathiser. His case could have been properly dealt with by our own prosecuting authorities. Instead, we believe that the British Government declined to prosecute him to enable the US Government to make an example of him. American officials involved in this case have stated that they want to see him ‘fry’.”

The law lords heard that under the plea bargain he would serve six to twelve months and then be returned to Britain to serve the rest of his sentence. Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood said that, in all, he might serve eighteen months to two years. However, if he were extradited and convicted, he might expect a sentence of between eight and ten years, possibly longer, and would not be repatriated at all.

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Al Gore Places Infant Son In Rocket To Escape Dying Planet

Young Gore sets out for his new home, where the sky is clear, the water is clean, and there are no Republicans.

EARTH—Former vice president Al Gore—who for the past three decades has unsuccessfully attempted to warn humanity of the coming destruction of our planet, only to be mocked and derided by the very people he has tried to save—launched his infant son into space Monday in the faint hope that his only child would reach the safety of another world.

"I tried to warn them, but the Elders of this planet would not listen," said Gore, who in 2000 was nearly banished to a featureless realm of nonexistence for promoting his unpopular message. "They called me foolish and laughed at my predictions. Yet even now, the Midwest is flooded, the ice caps are melting, and the cities are rocked with tremors, just as I foretold. Fools! Why didn't they heed me before it was too late?"

Al Gore—or, as he is known in his own language, Gore-Al—placed his son, Kal-Al, gently in the one-passenger rocket ship, his brow furrowed by the great weight he carried in preserving the sole survivor of humanity's hubristic folly.

"There is nothing left now but to ensure that my infant son does not meet the same fate as the rest of my doomed race," Gore said. "I will send him to a new planet, where he will, I hope, be raised by simple but kindly country folk and grow up to be a hero and protector to his adopted home."

As the rocket soared through the Gore estate's retractable solar-paneled roof—installed three years ago to save energy and provide emergency rocket-launch capability in the event that Gore's campaign to save Earth was unsuccessful—the onetime presidential candidate and his wife, Tipper, stood arm-in-arm, nobly facing their end while gazing up in stoic dignity at the receding rocket, the ecosystem already beginning to collapse around them.

In the final moments before the Earth's destruction, Gore expressed hope that his son would one day grow up to carry on his mission by fighting for truth, justice, and the American way elsewhere in the universe, using his Earth-given superpowers to become a champion of the downtrodden and a reducer of carbon emissions across the galaxy.

"Perhaps he will succeed where I have failed," Gore said.

Despite the child's humble beginnings, experts predict the intergalactic journey may have some extraordinary effects on Kal-Al's physique, eyesight, and, potentially, his powers of quiet, sensible persuasion.

"On his new planet, Kal-Al's Earth physiology will react to the radiation of a differently colored sun, causing him to develop abilities far beyond those of mortal men," political analyst Sig Schuster said. "He will be faster than a speeding Prius, stronger than the existing Superfund program, and able to leap mountains of red tape in a single bound. These superpowers will sustain him in his never-ending battle against conservatives, wealthy industrialists, and other environmental supervillains."

Although Gore and his wife voiced regrets that they could not accompany their son on his journey, they tried their best to equip Kal-Al for life on his new planet, providing the infant with a Keynote slide-show presentation of all human knowledge, a self-growing crystal fortress from which to monitor glacier shrinkage, and a copy of Al Gore's 1992 bestseller, Earth In The Balance.

The baby was also wrapped in a blanket emblazoned with the Gore family crest, which, because it is made of Earth materials, will be invulnerable on the new planet. It is hoped that one day it will be fashioned into a colorful costume for the boy to wear while fighting wrongdoers.

"In brightly hued tights, it will be harder for people there to ignore him when he takes on his new planet's lobbyists, auto manufacturers, and enemies of justice," Schuster said. "A bold and eye-catching unitard will give Kal-Al, last son of Earth, a formidable tool for protecting his new planet, a power more awesome than any his father could have dreamed of: the power of charisma."

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Dead Monster Washes Ashore in Montauk

No, Lizzie Grubman's still alive. This is an actual monster, some sort of rodent-like creature with a dinosaur beak. A tipster says that there is "a government animal testing facility very close by in Long Island," but unless the government is trying to design horrible Montauk monsters that will eat IEDs and fart fire at bad Iraqis, we're not sure why they would create such an unthinkable beast. Our guess is that it's viral marketing for something. Ali Lohan's new album perhaps. Click thru for larger dino-damage.

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Police reject candidate for being too intelligent

A US man has been rejected in his bid to become a police officer for scoring too high on an intelligence test.

Robert Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took an exam to join the New London police, in Connecticut, in 1996 and scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125.

But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.

Mr Jordan launched a federal lawsuit against the city, but lost.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court's decision that the city did not discriminate against Mr Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the test.

He said: "This kind of puts an official face on discrimination in America against people of a certain class. I maintain you have no more control over your basic intelligence than your eye color or your gender or anything else."

He said he does not plan to take any further legal action and has worked as a prison guard since he took the test.

The average score nationally for police officers is 21 to 22, the equivalent of an IQ of 104, or just a little above average.

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Tot-Tanic: Too soon?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

TOP 10 Sexiest Stormtroopers

A certain number of women have discovered something that could be the downfall of men. Dressing up in iconic costumes and parading themselves around a convention center full of possible virgins. Now I know, Star Wars fans are not all loser, virgin, uber-nerds and I agree because I’m a Star Wars fan and I get laid almost yearly. In between those 3-minute, semi-yearly intervals I came up with the TOP 10 Sexiest Stormtroopers.

Number 10


Number 9


Number 8


Number 7


Number 6


Number 5


Number 4


*image found at

Number 3


Number 2


Number 1


*image found at

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The 7 Biggest Asshole Computers in Science Fiction

By Chris Cummins

When computers inevitably take over the world, you can bet that sci-fi writers are going to be the first ones slaughtered by their electronic death rays. Throughout the history of science fiction, they have frequently been portrayed as scheming machines that want nothing more than to enslave or destroy humanity. Whether acting as a metaphor for society’s fear of the unknown or reflecting upon concerns about the misuse of technology, computers are the genre’s whipping boy. So it makes sense that they are often troublemaking punks out to spoil our fun in sci-fi films and TV shows. Here’s a look at the worst offenders.

7) Dr. Theopolis

During the first season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Dr. Theopolis—Theo if you will—was Twiki’s computerized buddy. Although he was considered one of the world’s greatest minds and held an esteemed position on the Earth’s Computer Council, he was mainly a big time know-it-all who constantly felt the need to express his disdain over his cock-headed robot pal’s wisecracks. Twiki had enough problems, what with sounding like Mel Blanc then suddenly not and all. The last thing he needed was to get chastised by some sexually ambivalent computer that looked like an electric meter.

6) MU-TH-R 182
Note to space truckers of the future: don’t take a job from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. The evil computer of Alien, MU-TH-R 182 (a.k.a. Mother) secretly took the crew of the Nostromo on a mission to check out an extraterrestrial signal and bring back one of the acid-dripping beasties for the Company to research if it could be implemented as a weapon. No one aboard except for the android Ash (coming soon to the 7 Biggest Asshole Robots in Sci-Fi Daily List) knew of Mother’s plan. The computer was perfectly fine with its entire crew being wiped out by the vicious xenomorph, proving once and for all that Mother was a fucker.

5) Deep Thought

From Marvin the Paranoid Android to Eddie, the ever-upbeat computer aboard the starship Heart of Gold, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy features a non-stop array of assholish robots and computers. None are worse than Deep Thought. Created to figure out “Life, the Universe and Everything,” the pompous machine wasted seven and a half million years of everyone’s time before announcing that the answer to all of existence was 42. The problem was that no one knew exactly what the question was, so the answer made no sense. Declaring that he didn’t have a clue either, Deep Thought had to build a supercomputer called the Earth to sort out exactly what the Ultinate Question was. It’s bad enough that he couldn’t do the job, but he had to pass the buck as well. He’s like your office manager who thinks up new team-building initiatives on a Friday afternoon and assigns you to figure out how to implement them by Monday morning. It was never mentioned in the books, but I bet Deep Thought would bend people’s ears about his killer golf swing too.

4) War Operative Plan Response

In WarGames, Matthew Broderick portrays a teenage computer hacker who accesses what he believes to be a videogame company’s mainframe. Turns out, Bueller got it wrong and he actually hacked into the government’s War Operation Plan Response computer. Deciding to play the machine’s Globalthermo Nuclear War simulation, he inadvertently kickstarts World War III when NORAD misinterprets the scenario as a full-on attack by the Russkies against the U.S. of A. With the help of Ally Sheedy and the computer’s creator, he manages to stop the now-sentient WOPR from destroying the human race through a nicely metaphoric game of Tic Tac Toe. Released 25 years ago, WarGames came out in an era besieged by nuclear fears and fascinated by the strange—and potentially dangerous—potentials of the computer age. WOPR wasn’t the first a-hole computer in sci-fi, but it was the one that most accurately reflected the very real concerns of its time.

3) Encom’s Master Control Program

Encom’s Master Control Program was a gigantic assclown. Not pleased with merely enslaving the programs that lived inside its mainframe, the MCP sought nothing less than global domination. Fortunately for us all, it learned a lesson in hubris when it was brought down by an electronic Frisbee. Subsequently, Flynn regained ownership of his Space Paranoids game and Tron and Yuri got to enjoy their new lives in the computer world—doubtlessly resulting in lots of kinky electrosex. End of line.

2) Skynet

Illustrating in horrific detail what WarGames merely hinted at, the Skynet military defense system of the Terminator films showcased the repercussions that self-aware computers could have upon the world. Taking control of Earth’s Global Digital Defense Network of military hardware and computers, Skynet used our own weapons against us to create a future dominated by amazingly cool Stan Winston-created robots. Given the success of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the anticipation for next summer’s Terminator: Salvation, it’s a given that Skynet will be causing problems for years to come: both for those in John Connor’s life and sci-fi fans who’ve had it with this whole franchise already.

1) Hal 9000

“The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.” – Hal 9000

I’d probably be lynched by Topless Robot readers if Hal 9000 didn’t take the top spot on this list, and rightfully so. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a pop culture rarity akin to The Beatles’ success—it’s impact can never truly be measured and it will continue to inspire forever. As Outkast asked: what’s cooler than cool? Ice cold. And that’s just what Hal is. An electronic terror with a peaceful voice and a sinister red eye, he is the personification of man’s fears of technology run amuck. Smug and plotting, he turns against the astronauts aboard the Discovery One with murderous results. Hal deserves your praise and your scorn. He’s no ordinary asshole computer, he’s the asshole computer. He set the bar for technodickery, and so far, none have come close.

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If you can dream It..You can do It..

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Grizzly

What to Do if You Encounter a Bear

Before visiting Yellowstone National Park or “bear country” familiarize yourself with safety precautions in order to avoid bear encounters. “Run for your life” may seem like common sense if a grizzly approaches you, but such action is highly unlikely to foil an attack. The recommended steps are not easy to follow, but they offer the best chance for survival. Here’s what the experts say:

If you encounter a grizzly, do not run.

Avoid direct eye contact.

Walk away slowly, if the bear is not approaching.

If the bear charges, stand your ground (you cannot outrun it).

Don’t scream or yell. Speak in a soft monotone voice and wave your arms to let the animal know you are human. If you have pepper spray, prepare to use it.

If the grizzly charges to within 25 feet of where you’re standing, use the spray.

If the animal makes contact, curl up into a ball on your side, or lie flat on your stomach.

Try not to panic; remain as quiet as possible until the attack ends.

While in bear country, be aware that you may encounter a bear at any time.

Be sure the bear has left the area before getting up to seek help.

While in bear country, be aware that you may encounter a bear at any time.

Some other interesting things about grizzlies:

  • Most human injuries from grizzly bears are caused by females acting aggressively to protect their young.
  • Grizzlies are omnivores; they will eat almost anything. Although a large part of their diet is vegetation, grizzlies will also kill and eat large and small animals.
  • Fewer than 1,100 grizzlies exist in the lower 48 states, in 5 populations in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. An estimated 500 to 600 grizzlies populate the Greater Yellowstone area.
  • Grizzlies are North America’s slowest reproducing land mammal. A female may not have her first litter until she is 5 or 6 years old, after which she will then typically produce two cubs every 2.5 years. Cubs from the same litter can be from different fathers. Grizzlies have a natural life span of 30 years or more.
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Fly, You Bastard, Fly! (Pic)

Some Judges Stiffen Foreclosure Standards


A cadre of state-court judges scrutinizing foreclosure actions in a string of recent rulings have discovered flaws in documents that borrowers may be able to use to keep their homes.

The judges, including a committee from the Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., are highlighting shortcuts taken by mortgage companies in court filings, which borrowers might be able to exploit when facing foreclosure.

Associated Press
A string of rulings by state-court judges, including a panel from Brooklyn, show the critical role of judges for borrowers facing foreclosures.

The rulings show the critical role that judges are beginning to play as foreclosures mount in the most severe housing crisis since the Great Depression. The recent decisions build upon widely circulated opinions issued last fall by federal judges in Ohio who found trusts that hold the mortgages regularly begin foreclosure proceedings before they obtain the legal right to do so.

Judges in states including New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts have begun to dismiss many cases "without prejudice," meaning the plaintiffs can fix the defects and resume the process, but the ruling gives the homeowners more time. Meanwhile, some bankruptcy courts, where creditors may seek permission to foreclose if the debtor isn't keeping up with the bankruptcy plan, have issued standing orders requiring creditors to prove ownership of loans. Other state courts, including in Ohio and Pennsylvania, have begun requiring owners of loans who have filed foreclosure suits to try to negotiate settlements with borrowers to avoid foreclosure.

The extent to which the judicial process can make a difference is limited and uneven. Only a handful of judges have taken on this cause. And in about half of U.S. states, the foreclosure process doesn't require judicial approval. Nonetheless, in states where the process must wind its way through the courts, the efforts of a few judges are giving hope to borrowers.

"More and more judges are focused on these basic issues of making sure the party that's trying to get the property back is entitled to get it," says April Charney, a foreclosure defense lawyer in Jacksonville, Fla., who trains lawyers and pro se, or non-lawyer, litigants.

About six judges from the supreme court in Brooklyn, the state's lowest court, which handles most of the New York City borough's foreclosure actions, have been digging into the problem and finding new issues that they can use to dismiss cases.

The work of the Brooklyn court -- which formed a committee to discuss foreclosures about five years ago, long before the housing crisis emerged -- looks prescient now as it has rejected dozens of foreclosure actions since the crisis began by identifying mistakes or suspicious information. Among the most energetic members of the Brooklyn committee is Justice Arthur Schack, 63 years old. Justice Schack says barely any of the foreclosures he has denied eventually are completed.

Justice Schack, a former counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Association who is known for peppering his rulings with pop culture references such as Bruce Willis movies, dismisses most foreclosures sua sponte, or without the borrower even responding to the suit. He noticed in several cases that the foreclosure actions weren't halted even though the borrowers had paid off the loan.

In June, the judge dismissed with prejudice two cases filed by a unit of Wells Fargo & Co. By doing online public-records research himself, the judge found that Wells Fargo didn't own the two loans, and his dismissals mean that even if Wells Fargo eventually obtained legal ownership, it could take up to another year to obtain foreclosure.

Another dismissal involved a foreclosure filed by a U.S. unit of HSBC Holdings PLC. Included in Justice Schack's concerns was that the filed documents list the address for HSBC and a loan payment collector as being the same suite in a West Palm Beach, Fla., building, and that in prior foreclosure filings, other financial entities also claimed to be located in the same suite.

"The Court ponders if Suite 100 is the size of Madison Square Garden to house all of these financial behemoths or if there is a more nefarious reason for this corporate togetherness," he wrote, adding that HSBC would have to write an affidavit explaining the popularity of suite 100.

Spokespeople for HSBC and Wells Fargo said the banks were acting as a trustee, or caretaker, for loan securitization trusts that hold mortgages. As the trustee, the banks have a minimal role and other companies known as servicers, which collect loan payments for the trusts, intitiate foreclosure proceedings on the trustees' behalf, the banks said.

Elsewhere, in Suffolk County on Long Island, several judges have taken up scrutiny of mortgage documents. Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner wrote recently in a ruling that he found "glaring discrepancies and unexplained issues of substance" in a foreclosure lawsuit filed last year by GMAC Mortgage LLC. Judge Spinner wrote that the lender included a document that "purports to" but doesn't legally transfer the promissory note, the borrower's promise to pay back the loan, to GMAC from the original lender. He also questioned why the note was purportedly executed at Fairfax, Va., and signed by the borrower on the same day that the borrower allegedly signed the mortgage in New York. A spokeswoman for GMAC declined to comment.

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Missouri Police taser injured boy 19 times

David Edwards and Diane Sweet

KY 3 News' Sara Sheffield reports on an injured teen from Ozark, Missouri who was tasered up to 19 times by police.

Passing motorists called Ozark police out of concern for the teen as he walked along the busy overpass. When the police arrived, the young man was lying on the shoulder of the highway directly underneath the 30 foot high overpass with a broken back and foot.

Doctors believe 16-year-old Mace Hutchinson broke his back and heel after falling, as his injuries are consistent with such a fall. The boy's family does not understand why police would have tasered the the teen 19 times after he was so seriously injured.

The teen's father said that the use of the taser caused Mace to develop an elevated white blood cell count, leading to a fever that delayed the young man's otherwise immediate surgery by two days.

Ozark Police Capt. Thomas Rousset attempted to explain why the taser was used:

"He refused to comply with the officers and so the officers had to deploy their Tasers in order to subdue him. He is making incoherent statements; he's also making statements such as, 'Shoot cops, kill cops,' things like that. So there was cause for concern to the officers."

Ozark police say that while there remains unanswered questions in the case, the reason for the use of the Taser is not one of them.

This video is from KY3 News, broadcast July 24, 2008.

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Self-deprecation the key to the art of seduction

By Chris Irvine

Self-deprecating humour, as much as floppy hair, was Hugh Grant's secret weapon in Four Weddings And A Funeral Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Although it has long been known that making a woman laugh is the best way to seduce her, new research shows the most successful form of humour comes from one's ability to poke fund at oneself, making men like actor Hugh Grant, 47, most sexually attractive to women.

Bringing attention to your flaws is a high-risk seduction strategy for men however and has the potential to backfire.

'Dissing Oneself: The Sexual Attractiveness of Self-Deprecating Humour,' will be published in next month's Evolutionary Psychology.

During the two-year study, women students listened to tape recordings of men talking about themselves, and we asked to score the men on sexual attractiveness.

Lead researcher Gil Greengross, of the University of New Mexico in the US, said: "Many studies show that a sense of humour is sexually attractive to women but we've found that self-deprecating humour is the most attractive of all.

"People who used this humour were considered to be far more desirable as mates."

He added a note of caution however, saying: "It is a risky form of humour because it can draw attention to one's real faults, thereby diminishing the self-deprecator's status in the eyes of others.

"Think about the secondary school child whom nobody liked, who makes fun of his shortcomings.

"His peers mocked him and he was considered more pathetic than he was previously.

"This is high-risk seduction. It is not for everyone."

Self-deprecation is a very British trait, and problems can arise when the British attempt to do so with a foreign culture.

Americans however love the British sense of humour, with a prime example when Hugh Grant's bumbling British bachelor character charms Andie MacDowell's young sexy American.

In a memorable best man's speech, he says: "This is only the second time I've been a best man. I hope I did OK that time.

"The couple in question are at least still talking to me. Unfortunately, they're not actually talking to each other.

"The divorce came through a couple of months ago. But I'm assured it had absolutely nothing to do with me. Paula knew Piers had slept with her sister before I mentioned it in the speech.

"The fact that he'd slept with her mother came as a surprise but I think was incidental to the nightmare of recrimination and violence that became their two-day marriage."

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Iowa Case Raises Question: Is Stripping an Art?

By MELANIE S. WELTE Associated Press Writer

Iowa doesn't have any all-nude strip clubs — but it does have performing arts centers where women dance naked.

Iowa case tests rules that allow performance arts centers, but not all-nude strip clubs. Shown here is a stock photo.
(Getty Images)

However, the loophole in the state's public indecent exposure law that allows nude dancing at "art centers" is under attack in the small community of Hamburg, a town of 1,200 just across the Missouri River from Nebraska.

The case pending before a Fremont County judge effects only one business in Hamburg, but if he agrees with the prosecutor, it could eventually threaten the legal standing of nude dancing clubs across the state.

District Judge Timothy O'Grady heard arguments in a one-day trial on July 17 and took the case under advisement.

It all began on July 21, 2007, when a 17-year-old niece of Sheriff Steven MacDonald climbed up on stage at Shotgun Geniez in Hamburg and stripped off her clothing. Owner Clarence Judy was charged with violating Iowa's public indecent exposure law.

Judy responded that the law doesn't apply to a "theater, concert hall, art center, museum, or similar establishments" devoted to the arts or theatrical performances.

"Dance has been considered one of the arts, as is sculpture, painting and anything else like that. What Clarence has is a club where people can come and perform," said his lawyer, Michael Murphy.

Murphy noted that the club has a gallery selling collectible posters and other art, and it provides patrons with sketch pads.

Nonsense, said Fremont County Attorney Margaret Johnson, an underage girl danced naked at the club, and that's illegal.

"Are you saying that minors can't be protected? Can a group of 12-year-olds come down and go in and dance nude and it's OK? I don't think that's what the Legislature had in mind when it made those additional provisions," Johnson said.

Johnson said the intent of the law is to allow movies in a theater where there's brief nudity or for an art gallery displaying paintings of nudes.

Murphy said Judy bans anyone under 18 from entering the five-year-old business. The problem, he said, was "a group of girls snuck in a 17-year-old."

"While she was there, she felt like dancing so she got up and danced on the stage and then she took her clothes off. Trouble with that is she's the sheriff's niece," he said.

Johnson denied that the teen's relation to the sheriff was connected to the charges filed against Judy.

Her parents were absolutely appalled with the situation," Johnson said.

The sheriff declined to comment. There was no comment from his niece, whose name wasn't given.

As part of his defense during trial, Murphy cited a 1998 ruling that found nude dancing is a form of art. In that case, the owner of the Southern Comfort Free Threatre for the Performing Arts in Davenport was charged under the public indecent exposure law for allowing nude dancing. A judge found owner not guilty.

The current case deals only with Judy and Shotgun Geniez, but there could be an appeal if either side loses.

Johnson said that would take it to the Iowa Court of Appeals and perhaps the Iowa Supreme Court. That would make it a statewide case that could affect dozens of other clubs in the state.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Dozens blinded in India looking for Virgin Mary

By Sarah Herman

A statue of the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary apparition was reported above a hotelier's home

At least 50 people have lost their sight after staring at the sun hoping to see an image of the Virgin Mary, according to reports.

Alarmed health authorities in India's Kottayam district have set up a sign dispelling rumours of a miraculous image in the sky and warning of the dangers of looking into direct sunlight.

Forty-eight cases of sight-loss, allegedly caused by photochemical burns on the retina, have been recorded at St Joseph's ENT and Eye hospital in the region since Friday.

Despite warnings, and the potentially harmful effects of their actions, believers are allegedly still flocking to a hotelier's house in Erumeli near where the divine image is said to have appeared.

"All our patients have similar history and symptoms… They have developed photochemical, not thermal, burns after continuously gazing at the sun," Dr Annamma James Isaac, the hospital's ophthalmologist said.

Even churches in the area have disowned the miracle after health officers and doctors approached the clergy.

The house where the miracle is said to have occurred has apparently been the subject of rumours for months.

The hotelier, who has since moved, had claimed that statues of the Virgin Mary in his house have been crying honey and bleeding oils and perfumes.

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Man stole buses, drove them on routes, returned them at night

200807251348.jpgIf James L. Harris really did what police say he did, then I would like to award him a Happy Mutant Criminal Award certificate.
The 18-year-old is accused of stealing at least three Miami-Dade Transist buses, and driving them on their routes.

Poilice say Harris wore a Miami-Dade Transit employee uniform, did not steal the fares, and returned the buses to the depot each night.

He's been charged with three counts each of third-degree grand theft and burglary of an occupied conveyance.

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Angry man shoots lawn mower for not starting

In this photo provided by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's department, Keith Walendowski is shown. Walendowski is accused of shooting his lawn mower because it wouldn't start. According to the criminal complaint, Walendowski said he was angry because his Lawn Boy wouldn't start Wednesday morning, July 23, 2008. He told police quote, 'I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want.' (AP Photo/Milwaukee County Sheriff's department via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
AP Photo: In this photo provided by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's department, Keith Walendowski is shown. Walendowski...

MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee man was accused of shooting his lawn mower because it wouldn't start. Keith Walendowski, 56, was charged with felony possession of a short-barreled shotgun or rifle and misdemeanor disorderly conduct while armed.

According to the criminal complaint, Walendowski said he was angry because his Lawn Boy wouldn't start Wednesday morning. He told police quote, "I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want."

A woman who lives at Walendowski's house reported the incident. She said he was intoxicated.

Walendowski could face up to an $11,000 fine and six years and three months in prison if convicted.

A call to Walendowski's home went unanswered Friday morning.

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5 Tiny Mistakes That Lead To Huge Catastrophes

By Adam Brown

A lot of you are probably reading this at work and despite that, a lot of you are probably also drunk. That's because most of us have jobs where, if you maybe screw up here and there, it's not the end of the world.

Or at least that's what we'd like to think. It turns out some of the biggest, costliest disasters have resulted from some random employee making a single tiny mistake. Such as ...

One Leaked File Nearly Brings Down AOL

Over the course of three months in 2006, AOL compiled search data on over 650,000 of its users. That might sound ominous, but all they wanted was a tool for researchers. Sure, the users didn't know their data was being saved, but what they didn't know couldn't hurt them, right? After all, it's not like they would ever release it to the general public.

Whoops ...
Somebody should have told company researcher Abdur Chowdhury. On Friday August 4, 2006, with a click of a mouse, Chowdhury uploaded a single compressed text file of the search data on an AOL website that was, in fact, open to the public.

But don't fret, the user names weren't listed and AOL officials quickly realized the mistake and took the file down on Monday, the next business day.

Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
This is the internet, there is no such thing as the next day. By the time the file was taken down, word of the data leak had spread through blogs far and wide, the search results were posted on mirror sites including one that remains today as a searchable database. The media had already taken to the frighteningly easy task of personally identifying some of the users.

See, despite the absence of user names, a number of people had unknowingly identified themselves by way of "ego searches." That means that, along with searches for pleasant topics like rape, murder, committing rape and murder, hiding rape and murder, and Clay Aiken CDs, they also searched for their own names, addresses and social security numbers.

Within days, The New York Times had released, with consent, the name of a user who they tracked down by cross-checking search keywords with phone books and other public information. After a few weeks, AOL had not only fired the researcher responsible for the leak, but also his supervisor and Chief Technology Officer Maureen Govern.

All because of one click of the mouse.

As a bizarre postscript to all of this, one of the users identified in the file only by number ("User 927") became internet famous for having basically the creepiest search habits imaginable. Searches included "human mold," "dog sex," "child porn," "Disney Beauty and the Beast Porn" and, most frighteningly, "'Sugar, We're Going Down' by Fallout Boy." No, really.

Well, recently, a stage production premiered, based on their life, called User 927.

One Switch Leaves New York City in the Dark

On the night of July 13, 1977, a system operator sat in New York City's ConEdison electric facility, probably reading a comic book and wishing the internet had been invented.

Then, lightning struck. Three times. It nearly crippled the facility. To make things worse, neighboring facilities then opened their connections to the ConEd system to keep their own from overloading. The details are technical, but let's just say at that point, the system was going to be fucked unless somebody took action.

But no worries, our trusty system operator was on duty. And all he needed to do was flip a few switches and disaster would be averted. What could go wrong?

Whoops ...
Did we mention those switches needed to be flipped quickly? And in the proper order? Someone should have mentioned it to the system operator. One switch flipped out of order and within a few minutes, a 230,000 volt connection with New Jersey closed and the system began to overload. At 9:36 PM, the entire ConEdison system shut down.

Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
New York City was suddenly plunged into 25 hours of electricity-free mayhem. With mid-July temperatures sweltering, a deranged serial killer who took his orders from his neighbor's dog on the loose, and 1977's New York City just being a generally unhappy place to be, people lost their shit.

In short order, the raucous, block party-like atmosphere in the streets turned into violent looting. Fires were started, store windows were smashed, electronics were stolen (albeit not used for some time) and the fucking Yankees were well on their way to another World Series title. Son of a bitch.

Above: Why we love New York

After all was said and done, 1,616 stores were damaged, 1,037 fires were set, and 3,776 arrests were made. A Congressional study estimated the total damage to the New York City area at $300 million. Also, as a bizarre side effect: hip-hop was born. Seriously. The looting apparently resulted in the first access to DJ equipment for poor inner city youths, launching the movement.

In the aftermath of the blackout, ConEdison implemented changes to make sure the same problem never happened again (which it totally did in 2003). We're assuming this involved something along the lines of a few sequentially ordered labels above those switches.

The Fatal Four Microns in the Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Telescope was initially conceived and budgeted for in the '70s and planned for launch in 1983. Various mishaps, not the least of which being the Challenger disaster, delayed the project for years. When it launched in 1990, scientists expected the Hubble to take its place among NASA's "great observatories," placing it in the company of, among others, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

Probably not related to the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

The Hubble was expected to deliver some pretty kick-ass images thanks to its ability to capture those images with little to no back light (as you'd get with an earthbound telescope). Sounds like a huge task, but the Hubble was equipped with one of the most powerful mirrors ever built.

A team of the best engineers in the world gathered to build that mirror, working 12-hour days for five straight years, grinding the mirror with equipment that would make sure it was perfect to within a millionth of an inch.

Whoops ...
A guy named Lou Montagnino was in charge of testing the thing, using equipment so sensitive they had to do it in the middle of the night--(the vibration of a car driving three miles away would throw it off).

Unknown to Lou, a microscopic chip of paint flecked off a measuring rod that was supposed to make sure the mirror was the right shape. It started giving back false readings as a result, and the mirror wound up being off by four microns.

That was their mistake. Four microns. Twenty-five times smaller than the width of a human fucking hair. Smaller than a mosquito's flaccid penis.

Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
When the first images were returned from the Hubble, the quality was drastically less than what NASA expected, and nowhere close to powerful enough for what NASA needed it to do.

Of course the real problem was that by the time they discovered the flaw, the damned thing was already out in space. So say goodbye to a few billion more dollars, which is what it cost for a series of Space Shuttle missions to fix the thing's mirror (the repairs got so costly that there was debate as to whether it wouldn't be better to just build a new one). We're surprised they didn't just strap Lou Montagnino to a rocket and send him up there with some really fine grit sandpaper in his hand.

The $1.4 Billion Sensor

At an air force base in Guam, during a routine check of a Stealth Bomber (aka The Most Expensive Fucking Plane Ever Built) somebody on a maintenance crew noticed the humidity was screwing up the air pressure sensors. Not a big deal, it's just a $1.4 billion aircraft, not like they could have ever guessed it would be flown in a place where there was humidity. We always go to war with dry countries.

Anyway, they just made sure to dry off the sensor before calibrating it. Problem solved. Good thing they worked that out before anything went wrong!

Communication is a beautiful thing. As simple as the sensor fix was, the maintenance crew overlooked one minor detail, which was telling other maintenance crews to do the same thing. But seriously, it's just an air sensor, with some droplets of water on it. Do those things really even serve any purpose? It's not like it's an engine or a flux capacitor or something.

Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
When another bomber pulled into Guam earlier this year, on presumably an equally humid day, a different maintenance crew left the wet sensors the way they were. As it turns out, those air sensors feed data to the Stealth Bomber's flight control system. Important data. The kind that keeps Stealth Bombers in the air.

See, that's what makes a $1.4 billion plane cost $1.4 billion--it takes hundreds of pounds of sophisticated computers to fly the thing. The malfunctioning sensors resulted in a premature take off, a 30-degree nose-towards-the-sky ascent, and ... well let's just show you:

Fortunately for the pilots, they were able to safely eject. And on the bright side, the next time a problem like this arises, they'll know how to fix it!

The Mars Climate Orbiter Disappears

Along with The Mars Polar Lander, The Mars Climate Orbiter was one part of the Mars Survey '98 project. The ambitious project was intended to study weather and climate patterns on Mars, presumably so we can all move there one day when things finally go completely off the rails here on earth.

With two separate, unmanned aircraft designed to work together from completely different points on a (probably) uninhabited planet, an obvious question is raised. Who the hell is working on our flying cars?!?! Whoever it is, we can only hope that as much careful attention and detail goes into our airborne Prius as was put into the Mars Climate Orbiter.

Whoops ...
Or not. When Maryland-based contractor Lockheed Martin was tapped to help build the Orbiter, they made as assumption that many of us probably would also. They're in the United States, NASA is in the United States, and 'round these parts, we don't deal with no stinking metric system. Thus some unnamed engineers installed software in the craft's thrusters that operated on the good ol' American units.

Nobody told NASA this, and they continued doing business in the same fruity metric system way they always have. But shit man, isn't there a checklist somewhere in the billion dollar orbiter building process that confirms these things?

We like to think there was one lone intern in mission control who, upon seeing some odd readouts on a screen, got the urge to ask his supervisor, "Is this like, in metric or American here?" but was afraid it was a stupid question.

Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
There are no stupid questions when it comes to $330 million spacecraft. You would really be hard pressed to find a NASA project that went more horribly wrong that didn't involve multiple fatalities. While neither machine performed particularly well, The Mars Polar Lander at least lived up to the promise of its name and, you know, landed.

The Mars Climate Orbiter, on the other hand, just couldn't be bothered. Initially expected to enter orbit at an altitude of 140 kilometers above Mars, the whole metric system misunderstanding caused the thrusters to fire incorrectly, causing the Orbiter to come in as low as 57 kilometers. At that height, the Orbiter was perilously close to the Martian atmosphere. Or at least that's where it was the last time anyone saw it.

The thing vanished, the most likely explanation being that atmospheric pressures and friction caused it to burst into flames and disintegrate. But, as a website that thrives on geekery, we're unwilling to rule out alien intervention. Whatever the case, it proves that countless disasters can be prevented by simply assuming everyone you're working with is a moron.

Original here

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuckoo Chicks Change Calls to Mimic Host

The chicks of a species of Australian cuckoo can adjust their call in order to fool other species into rearing them, despite never having heard the cry, researchers have found.

Like their European counterparts, Australian cuckoos are well known for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds.

Once the chicks hatch, they kick out the host's other eggs and set about convincing their foster parents to feed them by imitating the calls of the host's offspring.

But researchers from the Australian National University and the University of Cambridge, report in the latest issue of the journal Evolution, that one species of cuckoo can modify its call depending on which species it has hooked up with.

Females of the Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis), usually lay their eggs in the nests of fairy-wrens, but will sometimes lay them in the nests of other species including thornbills and robins.

Chicks that hatch in a fairy-wren nest are known to copy that species' short "cheep cheep" begging call, while chicks that hatch in the nests of thornbills imitate the thornbill's long, rasping whine.

Naomi Langmore and colleagues wanted to know how the chicks "decide" which cry to make.

"The most logical assumption was that there would be two races of cuckoo, each specializing on a different host and making a begging call that matches its host," Langmore said. "This would be similar to the European cuckoo, which has several different races each of which lays an egg that matches that of its favored host."

To test whether this was the case, the researchers took cuckoo eggs laid in fairy-wren nests, and switched them into thornbill nests. They then used tiny microphones clipped on nearby foliage to follow what happened.

"We were amazed to find that the chicks could modify their calls," Langmore said.

The chicks first begged like a fairy-wren chick, but within several days had switched to match the length of the thornbill's call.

"Remarkably, they make the same begging call as the chicks of whichever host rears them, even though they never actually hear the host chicks," said Langmore.

The surprising result suggests that the cuckoos could have a range of call options genetically pre-programmed, she said.

Chicks reared by a host other than a fairy-wren might find that they aren't getting fed properly because they aren't making the right call. That could prompt them to apply a simple rule that says "switch to an alternative begging call if I'm going hungry."

"Cuckoos survive by fooling other birds into rearing their chicks, so they are grand masters of deception," said Langmore.

Original here

Justice, 64 years later

Kevin P. Casey / For The Times
HONORABLE DISCHARGE: Ray Snow, left, accepts the official honorable discharge for his father, Samuel, from Ronald J. James, an assistant Army secretary presiding over the ceremony at Seattle's Ft. Lawton. Samuel Snow was among 28 black World War II soldiers wrongly convicted in the 1944 lynching of an Italian prisoner. Now 83 and one of only two of the 28 still alive, he fell ill earlier in the day and was unable to attend.

'Long-overdue vindication' comes for 28 black soldiers cleared in a 1944 lynching.

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- It was a crime so improbable that many had trouble believing it could have happened at all: Three black soldiers stood accused of lynching an Italian prisoner of war, found dangling from a wire on an obstacle training course at Ft. Lawton in the middle of World War II.

The subsequent trial of the three men, along with 40 other black enlistees charged with rioting, became the largest and longest Army court-martial of the war, and the only recorded instance in U.S. history in which black men stood trial for a mob lynching.

By the time it was over, 28 men had been convicted on rioting charges and two of them were also found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the 1944 hanging.

Despite their protests of innocence -- and the government's own secret investigation showing the prosecution's case was poisonously flawed -- the men were sentenced to hard labor and forfeiture of military pay and benefits, and were given dishonorable discharges.

Twenty-six of the men went to their graves with the stain of wartime dishonor still on their records. It wasn't until Saturday, in a low-key ceremony on a wide lawn at the Army base in Seattle, that history switched gears. A senior Army official handed out certificates setting aside the convictions and converting the discharges to honorable status, in recognition -- 64 years after the fact -- that prosecutors' "egregious error" had resulted in a trial that was "fundamentally unfair."
"I grieve for an Army that failed to honor its own values at Ft. Lawton," said Ronald J. James, an assistant Army secretary, as he handed out the certificates to surviving family members.

"The Army is genuinely sorry. I am sorry. Sorry for your husbands, loved ones, fathers and grandfathers, for the lost years of their lives," James said, calling the ceremony a "long-overdue vindication."

Not one of the soldiers were on hand to accept the apology. One of the two still living did try to attend -- 83-year-old Samuel Snow from Leesburg, Fla. -- but he was hospitalized with heart palpitations in downtown Seattle just hours before the observance.

"My father never held any animosity," said Snow's son, Ray.

"He said, 'Son, God has been good to me. If I hold this in my heart, then I can't walk in forgiveness.' Really, it energized him. It was the fuel that drove him: 'Bring on all the things that are supposed to stop me from achieving.' This was all liquid oxygen for him."

The case of the Ft. Lawton 28 had been little known in recent years, though the court-martial in 1944 was widely covered in the news at the time.

It wasn't until former television journalist Jack Hamann came upon the Italian soldier's grave in 1986 and began years of research that archival material was uncovered, demonstrating fatal flaws in the government's case -- and pointing to the likelihood that the Italian prisoner was killed by a white man.

Immediately after the lynching, the Army inspector general had conducted an exhaustive investigation that raised major questions about the evidence against the accused.

But the Army had appointed only two defense lawyers to handle all 43 men, giving them 10 days to prepare their case, and they were not permitted to see the report.

The prosecutor was Col. Leon Jaworski, who in 1973 became the special prosecutor in the Watergate case involving the administration of President Nixon.

"Jaworski disingenuously -- and, it's clear now, illegally and unethically -- said, 'Sorry, that's not what you think it is, and you can't have it.' He fought, and got the court to agree not to let it in," Hamann said in an interview. Jaworski died in 1982.

Hamann wrote a 2005 book about the case, "On American Soil."

Based in large part on the evidence disclosed in the book, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records reviewed the case last year and ruled unanimously to overturn the convictions and grant retroactive honorable discharges.

"I don't think very often they come out and say our largest and longest court-martial of this giant war, World War II, was fatally flawed," Hamann said.

"But the Army has been a driver of this, by getting out ahead of it and saying, 'We want to let our constituents know we're not hiding behind this. We've read the evidence, we agree, we checked it out ourselves.' "

The junior defense counsel in the case, Howard Noyd, now 93, said he and his partner had known from the beginning that "justice was sacrificed" and his clients were wrongly charged.

"It's just a remarkable story. I didn't expect we would ever come to final justice," Noyd said.
Walt Prevost, 65, the owner of a pharmacy in Watts, traveled to Seattle on behalf of his late father, Willie Prevost, who he said never talked about the case before his death in 1998.

"I talked to a lot of the other families, and they all say the same thing: They never talked about it. We knew absolutely nothing about [my father's] Army career. It was something he was really impacted by in an adverse way, so he would never talk about it," Prevost said.

"But I would say my family suffered severely as a result of the Ft. Lawton tragedy," he said. His mother was forced to raise her four children with no income or Army benefits while his father was in prison, he said.
Hamann said that though most of the prison terms were relatively short, the convicted soldiers would have been affected their entire lives.

"You're talking about 50 years of no GI Bill, no VA, no ability to get a civil service job with that dishonorable discharge," Hamann said.

Some reparations are being offered: back pay for the prison time. Snow was sent a $725 check, which he didn't bother to cash.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) is pushing legislation that would grant the soldiers full reparations.

"The main thing is he never got to do the things he wanted to do," said Beverly Evans, a South Los Angeles resident whose father, Luther Larkin, was convicted in the lynching. He died a month before she was born, in 1948.

James, the assistant Army secretary, ended his calm but emotional address with a declaration that he would not end it as most such speeches conclude.

"The usual closing is something like 'God bless the Army, and God bless the United States of America,' but frankly that doesn't seem right or appropriate for this time -- I have unpaid debts and unpaid dues," James said.

"Therefore, I would like to close by saying: God bless Samuel Snow, God bless the Ft. Lawton 28, and God bless your family and friends."

Original here

New York subway romance hits end of the line

A modern-day love story of a man spotting the girl of his dreams across a New York subway train and tracking her down over the Internet has failed to have a fairytale ending with the relationship over.

For Web designer Patrick Moberg, then 21, from Brooklyn, it was love at first sight when he spotted a woman on a Manhattan train last November. But he lost her in the crowd so he set up a website with a sketch to find her --

Unbelievably in a city of 8 million people, it only took Moberg 48 hours to track down the woman, with his phone ringing non-stop and email box overflowing as usually cynical New Yorkers took sympathy on the subway Romeo and joined his hunt.

The mysterious brunette was named as Camille Hayton, from Melbourne, Australia, who was working as an intern at the magazine BlackBook and also lived in Brooklyn. One of her friends spotted the sketched picture on the Web site and recognized her.

'We're just friends'
But after finding each other, appearing on TV and getting international press, the couple took their romance out of the public eye, with Moberg closing down the Web site and with both refusing to making any more comments -- until now.

Hayton told Australian newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that she dated Moberg for about two months but it just didn't work out.

"I say we dated for a while but now we're just friends," Hayton, now 23, told the newspaper. "It's really nice that people embraced the story. It is part of my life now."

Hayton said she is still recognized about three times a week on the streets of Manhattan as "that girl"' and the question is always the same: "So what happened?"

"I think the situation was so intense that it bonded us," she said, adding it "bonded us in a way that you could mistake, I guess, for being more romantic than it was. I don't know. But I wanted to give it a go so I didn't wonder what if, what if?"

Hayton told The Sunday Telegraph that she is enjoying single life in New York, keeping busy with acting classes, working in two vintage clothing stores and as a waitress.

Last week she had a small role as a waitress in the long-running daytime soap "As The World Turns" and last year she was an extra in a "blink and you'd miss it" scene in the hit movie "Sex And The City."

"I just can't believe it happened. It feels like a long time ago," said Hayton.

Moberg, however, was still refusing to comment on the relationship.

"We've decided not to do any more press," he wrote in an e-mail to Reuters.

Original here

The Case For Pot

What do a Seattle cop, an Edmonds travel writer and the ACLU have incommon? They all want to legalizemarijuana, and not just for medical purposes. As Seattle’s annual Hempfest returns to Myrtle Edward Park this month, these odd bedfellows are putting Seattle at the center of a national conversation about marijuana reform

By Yemaya Maurer
Hempfest: August 2006. On the shores of Puget Sound in Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park, a hard rock band wraps up its set. Amid vendors hawking colorful bongs, hemp knapsacks and Love Your Mother bumper stickers, the crowd of 20- and 30-somethings applauds. As the last strains of guitar music drift upward into the air, mixing with plumes of marijuana smoke, a broad-shouldered man with short, white hair pushes through the crowd. In bold print, the back of his T-shirt reads: cops say legalize drugs. ask me why. When he takes the stage and turns around, it’s clear why he’s prompting the question: This is Seattle’s former police chief Norm Stamper.

While Stamper isn’t scheduled to appear at this year’s Hempfest, at the event two years ago he addressed the crowd on an issue that he continues to speak out on: the legalization of marijuana. So how does a cop go from busting people for pot to advocating its decriminalization?

Stamper recently recounted a story from his rookie year as a cop when he arrested a 19-year-old for marijuana possession, handcuffed him, put him in the back of his squad car and started driving toward the station. As he looked at his charge in the rear-view mirror, he realized he’d just arrested a young man who hadn’t been hurting anybody. “I could have been doing real police work,” Stamper says. “I could have been intervening in domestic violence. I could have been stopping people from hurting other people—that’s noble, honorable work.” It was a turning point for Stamper, who made a vow to treat adult marijuana possession enforcement as his lowest priority. He did so throughout his tenure as police chief, and in 2003, three years after he retired, Seattle residents passed Initiative 75, making adult marijuana possession the lowest priority for city police—an initiative that led to similar reforms in other cities, including Denver. Leadership on initiatives such as this, as well as advocacy by high-profile activists such as Stamper, has put Seattle at the center of a national conversation about marijuana decriminalization.

Stamper is one of the more unlikely advocates for marijuana policy reform—and he holds a position that’s radical, even to many of those who attend Hempfest (arguably the largest cannabis reform rally in the world). While many reform advocates would like to see marijuana decriminalized, Stamper takes it several steps further: He wants marijuana—and all drugs—to be legalized, regulated and controlled. Only then, he argues, can we take power away from drug lords, get users the help they need and allow law enforcement to focus on violent crimes.

Stamper sits on the advisory board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a national nonprofit organization with 6,500-plus members who advocate for the end to the war on drugs. As a member of LEAP, he often gives speeches, such as the one he gave earlier this year to students at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center. As he paced the stage in his polished leather shoes and pressed black suit, he called the war on drugs the most damaging social policy since slavery, and a failure. “Today, drugs are more readily available at lower prices and higher potency than at any time in the drug war.” Among the stats he cited: $1 trillion has been spent on the war on drugs; more than a half-million Americans are currently in jail as a result of it; and in 2006, a record 829,627 individuals were arrested for marijuana offenses in America.

Several audience members brought up an issue frequently raised on this topic—whether it’s moral for a government to legalize drugs that can hurt people and lead to addiction. It was clearly a question Stamper had heard before. In a passionate yet well-rehearsed response, he said that legalization, regulation and control won’t solve the drug problem, but at least users will get drugs at the proper strength and have access to resources that will help them limit or stop their drug use. One student, sitting in the back row, asked the question everyone secretly hoped someone would pose: Does Stamper smoke pot? Sidestepping the question, he told the group that he cherishes his privacy, and that it’s nobody’s business whether or not he uses pot. The only things that get him off Orcas Island where he lives are what he calls the three D’s—domestic violence, the death penalty and drug policy reform, issues that he speaks about across the country.

No one is happier to have Stamper on the side of legalizing pot than Vivian McPeak, executive director of Hempfest and self-described traditional hippie (his gray dreadlocks and long beard fit the part). McPeak devotes himself full time, year-round to organizing Hempfest. “If someone would have told us in 1991 [the year Hempfest started] that 15 years later the chief of police would be on our stage, speaking our same message of freedom and responsibility, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy,’” McPeak says, adding that Stamper adds a lot of credibility to Hempfest and has helped generate positive media coverage. Too often, he says, media coverage has focused more on the festival component of the event, rather than the forum it provides for discussion about marijuana policy reform.

“People who dismiss us as a bunch of people smoking pot in the park are completely missing the point,” says McPeak. “This movement is about people losing their homes, their jobs and their kids, kids getting kicked out of school, people being incarcerated for an equal or greater amount of time than those committing violent crimes. It’s not funny.” McPeak, who has been with Hempfest from the beginning, originally got involved to celebrate personal freedom. But over the years, he has focused more on what he calls the unjustified and inequitable incarceration of otherwise innocent people who are caught with marijuana in their possession. In 2006 alone, according to the FBI, 44 percent of drug arrests made were for marijuana—more than any other drug. And 89 percent of those arrests were for possession only, not trafficking.

The ACLU of Washington is another organization involved with marijuana reform. This winter, it launched “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation”, a multimedia campaign that casts marijuana policy reform as a matter of civil liberty and racial justice, an argument that is slowly experiencing increased traction. According to Alison Holcomb, Washington ACLU’s Marijuana Education Project director, marijuana prohibition is rooted in racism. Until the 1960s or ’70s, marijuana was viewed by the public as primarily the intoxicant of marginalized people, such as immigrants and black jazz musicians. Because these outsiders’ use of “wacky tobaccy” scared mainstream Americans, prohibitionists relied on fear to push anti-marijuana laws through federal legislation. Marijuana laws are still enforced disproportionately against people of color: While 74 percent of marijuana users are white and 14 percent are African American, African Americans account for 30 percent of marijuana arrests.

The ACLU’s educational campaign has another unlikely marijuana advocate as host: renowned Edmonds-based travel writer and TV celebrity Rick Steves. The campaign’s Web site and television program (available 24/7 to Comcast On Demand subscribers) features likable, uncontroversial characters such as Steves who encourage people to talk publicly about marijuana and its prohibition. The ACLU supports a public health approach to drugs, including marijuana. Holcomb says that marijuana is a safe way to start addressing the war on drugs, and that Steves is the ideal person to start the conversation: He’s the father of two teens; he and his wife, Anne, are active philanthropists in their community; he’s a committed member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and he often writes and speaks publicly about his deep concern for this country.

When asked why he’s chosen to focus on marijuana rather than other pressing social issues, Steves’ answer is simple: “Anybody can talk about homelessness and everyone claps, but people are afraid to talk about marijuana…. I can speak out and survive. I don’t need to be elected or promoted.” Steves’ successful company—which publishes guidebooks and hosts overseas trips—employs 80 people. The nature of his business means that he spends a good chunk of each year traveling the world, where he sees firsthand how many other countries have addressed their drug problems more successfully than the United States. He’s occasionally smoked marijuana while abroad and doesn’t want to lie about it to his kids or to anybody else. He believes this country can adopt a pragmatic policy toward marijuana with a focus on harm reduction and public health, rather than tough but counterproductive criminalization. When he accepted the Luther Institute’s Wittenberg Award, recognizing outstanding service to church and society earlier this year, he didn’t pull any punches as he talked about drug policy reform to the mostly conservative crowd.

For most, Steves’ message is a little more palatable than Stamper’s, as Steves advocates for decriminalization, not legalization. He points to the Netherlands, where marijuana is decriminalized—sales are not legal and regulated, but the criminal penalties are absent—as an example of a country that approaches marijuana from a public health perspective rather than a criminal one. The Dutch government invests more in marijuana education, prevention and treatment than in prosecuting and jailing users. “They don’t have all the answers, but they’re comfortable with the gray zone,” says Steves.

When he can get mainstream people talking about marijuana policy reform, Steves feels like he’s putting his fame to good use. He writes op-ed pieces in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he speaks about the issue on public radio and he appears on television shows such as Evening Magazine. But when he talks each year at Hempfest, he worries that he’s preaching to the choir. “It would be great if everyone there would buy a few less T-shirts and take that money to support advocacy groups such as NORML.” The group, on whose advisory board Steves sits, lobbies Congress and state legislatures for more rational and cost-effective marijuana policies. He finds it disappointing when people smoke marijuana recreationally and responsibly, but do not get involved in advocacy. Mostly he sees Hempfest as a celebration of a subculture, a good thing in and of itself. “But if you want to win the war on criminalization, you’ve got to cut your hair, put on a shirt and go talk outside the choir.”

Some experts involved in drug policy reform have concluded that the facts are in and there’s nothing to discuss. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (DCP), a component of the Executive Office of the President, for one, stands firmly behind the federal law, which states that marijuana is illegal and that getting high on marijuana can impede human development and impair judgment. Under federal law, possession of any amount is punishable by up to one year in jail for a first offense and a minimum fine of $1,000—the punishment increases with each offense; the sale or cultivation of any amount less than 50 kilograms is a felony punishable by five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. In Washington state, possession of 40 grams or more can result in five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Other experts, such as Dr. Roger Roffman, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, say that marijuana is harmful and that criminalizing people for its use is even more harmful. Roffman has studied marijuana use for 40 years, initially among service personnel in the Vietnam War. He currently researches marijuana dependence and, with federal funds, studies counseling approaches to treating adults dependent on marijuana. He argues that even with the ACLU’s recent efforts and with Hempfest gaining more credibility as a reform rally, major strides in marijuana policy reform will not happen until reform advocates acknowledge that marijuana can be harmful, should not be used by children and should not be used continually by teens or people with certain health issues. Only when advocates acknowledge this, will the public become comfortable talking rationally and openly about marijuana decriminalization, he says.

No matter where they fall on the spectrum of proposed policy reform, decriminalization advocates and many legal experts and politicians agree that our current marijuana laws are not working. Today, 98 million Americans—a third of our population—admit to having tried marijuana. They acquired the drug from dealers who had all the control during the transaction. “The way things are now, we can’t control how strong the pot is, what pesticides are used, whether it’s been laced with cocaine, nothing!” says the ACLU’s Holcomb. To those who argue that marijuana is a gateway drug, Steves counters that it only has that role in that it puts young people out in the streets with people who have a financial incentive to sell harder stuff.

Hempfest is one way marijuana policy reform proponents are trying to get their message out, using the hook of entertainment. But once there, organizers work to impart advocacy. Sometimes the two have mixed, as in a performance on the Hempfest main stage in 2005 by Alison Holcomb. To prove that what the messenger looks like does matter if you want to be heard, she started her speech wearing an over-the-top hippie chic outfit, complete with tie-dyed muumuu and peace-sign glasses; by the end, she’d stripped down to her customary lawyer attire—black pant suit, Barbara Bush pearls.

Other decriminalization activists focus on reaching out to parents. Sandee Burbank, the founder and executive director of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), an Oregon-based group with 2,000 members who want to help people make informed decisions about drugs, travels around the country talking about drug consumer safety. One stop on her annual tour is Hempfest, which gives her the opportunity to talk with parents about the potential dangers of all drugs—including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications—compared to medical marijuana, which she believes is far more useful and less harmful. She would like to see marijuana legalized so people have the option to choose it over other, more dangerous drugs.

Medical marijuana is the most successful realm of drug policy reform, at least at the state level. Voters in Washington state passed the Medical Use of Marijuana Act in 1998, which allows patients with certain chronic, fatal and debilitating diseases to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana with a doctor’s authorization. (The state Legislature has mandated that the Washington State Department of Health spell out exactly how much a 60-day supply constitutes; a decision on the matter was expected around July 1, after this issue went to press.) Other states have similar measures, but none of them change federal marijuana laws, which do not recognize state medical marijuana laws: Anyone who grows, distributes, dispenses or possesses marijuana for any purpose may still face federal prosecution—felony charges, jail time, fines and loss of financial aid.

If Seattle’s marijuana advocates have their way, people across the nation will stop with the Cheech and Chong jokes and start talking about marijuana decriminalization around their dining-room tables, in front of their legislatures and, for two days each August, at a waterfront celebration in honor of a plant called pot.

Original here