Sunday, December 30, 2007

Selected on 30.12.2007

The "war" on Muslim women
Some statistics..

"You've got to find what you love," Jobs says
Addressing to undergrads of Stanford, Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave a volatile, joyous, and very inspirational speech.

Proof that girls are evil
You should have some knowledge of math to understand this.

List of unusual deaths
Wikipedia list of unusual deaths from ancient times to modern age wars..

How language works
An informative guide on some aspects of langauges and their "rationale" from Indiana University..

World's top 100 wonders
A quick-fact data on wonders of the world. Nothing too deep. Klapp und klar as they say in german.

Psychological ("personality") Types

FunnNNNNNyYYyy pics!!!
(Love that one with sausages..;) )

When Insults Had Class
Some beautifully phrased and intricately delicate insults and insinuations of great and not-so-great people..

Amazing shots of mother nature, so pure and innocent

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Imagine being drowned.

Water fills your lungs, your heart races. Your head pounds, desperate for oxygen. The hood over your face won't let you up. Your limbs are strapped down, and the man standing over you is screaming at you. At first his words are sharp and clear, but as your brain is slowly deprived of oxygen, you can't hear him so well any more.

You try to hold your breath as the water is forced down on your face for minutes at a time. No matter how calm you thought you would be, you can't help that sinking feeling in your gut.

The water goes up your nose, and flows through your nasal cavities, making you twinge with sudden cold and desperation. Then you gag on the water, but that only hasten the opening of your bronchial passages to the flow of chill death seeping into your lungs. Your chest feels so tight, like you are coughing on a candy stuck in your throat, but much worse. The sudden fear envelops you.

“I'm DYING!” Your body is screaming at you. Your central nervous system lapses into convulsions. You kick and spasm. You scream, but the water, the hood, and the lack of air in your lungs won't let you.

You thoughts are racing. Time slows down as a natural result of your brain-chemistry being deprived oxygen. You have time to clearly experience the cold water flowing into your lungs, every nuance of your own nasal cavity being flooded, the straps holding your twisting body to the hard surface below you. You have time to experience the slow meaning of death. The very gates of hell are opening to you now, as time slows to a standstill. Hundreds of painful, dreadful minutes tick by. You know you are dying but that doesn't make things any less painful for your gasping lungs. Your vision turns red, becomes a tunnel. Your eyes are bulging and your muscles are all fully flexed. It fades to black.

Torture as defined under international laws, is:

"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person . . . by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

Waterboarding is considered an OK in America

Friday, December 21, 2007

Selected on 21.12.2007

Bush Acknowledges Existence Of Carbon Dioxide
In an unexpected reversal that environmentalists and scientists worldwide are calling groundbreaking, President George W. Bush, for the first time in his political career, openly admitted to the existence of carbon dioxide following the release of the new U.N. Global Environment Outlook this October.

Alcohol – What the Bible Really Says
The Scriptures reveal God’s will concerning how we should live (2 Tim. 3:16). God has not neglected to reveal his will in the matter of alcohol. Wine and other alcoholic drinks are frequently mentioned in the Bible. If something sinful or beneficial exists about these beverages, then the Bible will show it. What does the Bible really say about wine and alcohol?

Facebooks and politics in the Middle East
When it comes to Facebook, most users think of "poking", adding random "friends" or perhaps spying on an acquaintance on the popular social networking site. However, in some Middle Eastern countries where governments' grip on the media is tight Facebook has acquired social and political significance. For many Arab governments it is proving to be a challenge.

Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US
We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

Police State America - A Look Back and Ahead
An very informative and interesting resumé from GlobalResearch.

WTO sets $21 million in sanctions against U.S. for online betting ban
The United States faces a token US$21 million (€14.6 million) in annual trade sanctions as a result of its online betting ban, the World Trade Organization said Friday in awarding Antigua and Barbuda the right to target U.S. services, copyrights and trademarks.

Top 10 Most Curious stories of 2007 (according to Times)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Selected on 16.12.2007

Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites"
It is a first-person account of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni man, who was kidnapped to a CIA "black site" torture camp and remained imprisonned without any charges leveled against him for 19 months.

Google debuts Knol, "author-driven knowledge" project
The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors’ names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors — but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word “knol” as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably.

Wikipedia black helicopters circle Utah's Traverse Mountain
How wikipedia blacklisted 1000 men to get to the one and for what...

Evgeny's article on how an indie film with under USD 200,000 budget turned to be a cult thanks to internet piracy.

A Big List of Sites That Teach You How To Do Stuff
..there are a large number of very helpful sites that teach you how to do things. These are do-it-yourself sites, but we're not talking about building a deck or baking a cake -- the web is full of more general interest sites that give quality instruction on all sorts of fun and useful projects. Including, sometimes, how to build a deck or bake a cake.

In the 1950s, sociologists coined the term “homophily” — love of the same — to explain our inexorable tendency to link up with one another in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs.

I'm The U.N. Undersecretary Your Mother Warned You About
..I came here to do two things: advance the cause of economic equality, and get some tail—and I'm all set on economic equality. Spend a couple General Assembly sessions with me and I can teach you things no air-dropped pamphlet decrying the dangers of unprotected sex in developing countries ever can. These special envoys, they've never seen anything like me. I'm a bona fide, high-ranking ambassador- and lady-killer.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Enemies: born or artificially created..

Along with warfare, cheating, and religion, one of oldest ideas and consequent actions of humans was to create their own enemies for a variety of reasons.

In 70 BC, an ambitious minor politician and extremely wealthy man, Marcus Licinius Crassus, wanted to rule Rome. Crassus introduced the first fire brigades .However, he used fire brigades to his own ends. His fire-fighting slaves would race to the scene of a burning building whereupon Crassus would offer to buy it on the spot for a tiny fraction of it's worth. If the owner sold, Crassus' slaves would put out the fire. If the owner refused to sell, Crassus allowed the building to burn to the ground. By means of this device, Crassus eventually came to be the largest single private land holder in Rome, and used some of his wealth to help back Julius Caesar against Cicero. But Crassus wanted more than a health and a favorable opinion about himself. He wanted the supreme power of Rome. For that he seized upon the slave revolt led by Spartacus in order to strike terror into the hearts of Rome, whose garrison Spartacus had already defeated in battle. But Spartacus had no intention of marching on Rome itself, a move he knew to be suicidal. Spartacus and his band wanted nothing to do with the Roman empire and had planned from the start merely to loot enough money from their former owners in the Italian countryside to hire a mercenary fleet in which to sail to freedom. Sailing away was the last thing Crassus wanted Spartacus to do. He needed a convenient enemy with which to terrorize Rome itself for his personal political gain. Therefore, Crassus bribed the mercenary fleet to sail without Spartacus, then positioned two Roman legions in such a way that Spartacus had no choice but to march on Rome. Terrified of the impending arrival of the much-feared army of gladiators, Rome declared Crassus a Praetor. Crassus then crushed Spartacus' army and even though Pompey took the credit, Crassus was elected Consul of Rome the following year. With this maneuver, the Romans surrendered their Republican form of government. Soon would follow the first Triumvirate, consisting of Crassus, Pompeii, and Julius Caesar, followed by the reign of the god-like Emperors of Rome.

What Crassus once did, Adolph Hitler repeated in another time and guise. Elected Chancellor of Germany, Hitler, like Crassus, had no intention of living with the strict limits to his power imposed by German law. Hitler's thugs were easy to recognize; they all wore the same brown shirts. But their actions were no different than those of their Roman predecessors. They staged beatings, set fires, caused as much trouble as they could, while Hitler made speeches promising that he could end the crime wave of subversives and terrorism if he was granted extraordinary powers. Then the Reichstag burned down; a staged terrorist attack.

The Germans were hoaxed into surrendering their Republic, and accepting the total rule of Der Fuehrer. Hitler had German troops dressed in Polish uniforms attack the radio station at Gliewitz, then lied to the Germans, telling them Poland had invaded, and marched Germany off into WW2.

Governments routinely rely on hoaxes to sell their agendas to an otherwise reluctant public. The Romans accepted the Emperors and the Germans accepted Hitler not because they wanted to, but because the carefully crafted illusions of threat appeared to leave no other choice.

President Roosevelt needed a war. He needed the fever of a major war to mask the symptoms of a still deathly ill economy struggling back from the Great Depression (and mutating towards Socialism at the same time). Roosevelt wanted a war with Germany to stop Hitler, but despite several provocations in the Atlantic, the American people, still struggling with that troublesome economy, were opposed to any wars. Roosevelt violated neutrality with lend lease, and even ordered the sinking of several German ships in the Atlantic, but Hitler refused to be provoked. Roosevelt needed an enemy, and if America would not willingly attack that enemy, then one would have to be maneuvered into attacking America, much as Crassus has maneuvered Spartacus into attacking Rome. The way open to war was created when Japan signed the tripartite agreement with Italy and Germany, with all parties pledging mutual defense to each other. Whereas Hitler would never declare war on the United States no matter the provocation, the means to force Japan to do so were readily at hand. The first step was to place oil and steel embargoes on Japan, using Japan's wars on the Asian mainland as a reason. This forced Japan to consider seizing the oil and mineral rich regions in Indonesia. With the European powers militarily exhausted by the war in Europe, the United States was the only power in the Pacific able to stop Japan from invading the Dutch East Indies, and by moving the Pacific fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt made a pre-emptive strike on that fleet the mandatory first step in any Japanese plan to extend it's empire into the "southern resource area".

Roosevelt boxed in Japan just as completely as Crassus had boxed in Spartacus. Japan needed oil. They had to invade Indonesia to get it, and to do that they first had to remove the threat of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. There never really was any other course open to them. To enrage the American people as much as possible, Roosevelt needed the first overt attack by Japan to be as bloody as possible, appearing as a sneak attack. From that moment up until the attack on Pearl Harbor itself, Roosevelt and his associates made sure that the commanders in Pearl Harbor were kept in the dark as much as possible about the location of the Japanese fleet and it's intentions, then later scapegoated for the attack. But as the army board had concluded at the time, and subsequent de-classified documents confirmed, Americans knew the attack was coming, knew exactly where the Japanese fleet was, and knew where it was headed.

President Johnson wanted a war in Vietnam. He wanted it to help his friends who owned defense companies to do a little business. He needed it to get the Pentagon and CIA to quit trying to invade Cuba. And most of all, he needed a provocation to convince the American people that there was really "no other choice". On August 5, 1964, newspapers across America reported "renewed attacks" against American destroyers operating in Vietnamese waters, specifically the Gulf of Tonkin. The official story was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an "unprovoked attack" on the USS Maddox while it was on "routine patrol". The truth is that USS Maddox was involved in aggressive intelligence gathering in coordination with actual attacks by South Vietnam and the Laotian Air Force against targets in North Vietnam. The truth is also that there was no attack by torpedo boats against the USS Maddox. The task force commander in the Gulf cabled Washington that the report was the result of an "over-eager" sonar man who had picked up the sounds of his own ship's screws and panicked. But even with this knowledge that the report was false, President Johnson went on national TV that night to announce the commencement of air strikes against North Vietnam, "retaliation" for an attack that had never occurred.

Same story for President Bush Jr. who vowed to eliminate Sadam Hussein from his power base in Iraq

Selected on 10.12.2007

How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook
Many social networking sites such as Friendster and SixDegrees existed. All had their raise and consequent fall. Will Facebook face a similar challenge? Why?

In Japan, cellular storytelling is all the rage
It seems improbable, even at this early stage, that 21-year-old Rin (a nom de plume) might one day be granted a place alongside Fyodor Dostoevsky in the pantheon of literary giants. But if the trend continues to rise, it might well be the case eventually.

Did Iceland Teen Call Secret White House Phone?
How a 16-year-old Icelander called Bush..and what happened after..

Some really good libertarian quotes

Monday, December 3, 2007

Selected on 03.12.2007

Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies
Descriptions of ten of the most influential social psychology studies. Each one tells a unique, insightful story relevant to all our lives, every day, and why behave and are the way we are.

11 phenomenal images of the Earth

Top prisons of the world
The most secure, the strangest, the most attractive the smallest etc. prisons. Informative, to say the least!

Images that changed the world..
Some disturbing, some amazing, some moving and other images. All they have in common is the impact they left on our everyday and general perception of life and humanity.

Biography of America
Links, texts, images on American history. Informative!

English Tongue Twisters
Some interesting English language twisters around.

Another CIA sponsored Coup D'Etat? Venezuela’s D-Day: Democratic Socialism or Imperial Counter-Revolution
On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated a confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA which is devastatingly revealing of US clandestine operations and which already influenced the referendum on December 2, 2007.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Life is statistics

Here is a claim that will carry me far along the path of being considered crazy…This is not one of cliché phrases decorating pages of highly illuminated volumes of ancient classics. Nor this is a freshly concocted New Age gimmick catch-phrase kitted on a gadget-festooning wall of the apartment of an ardent proponent of globalization.

This is what I came to realize while thinking a bit of how life is carrying along its own flow for me, for us, for everyone. What is life?

This question has been asked so many times by so many people, from incredibly dull to unsurpassably brilliant, because it gives voice to the issue many wonder about at idle times, during stressful moments, and of course, in aftermath of hideously glaring or impossibly happy incidents. However, many times this question is asked not to find an answer but to rather give our imagination a free fly and to try to ply along chaotic twists of our mind. Usually, many responses emerge. For everyone, life has its unopened doors, its hidden angles, its unrevealed glow, and this is where most of our thoughts are directed while we seek answers.

One of my favorite books about this ultimate question – what is life – is written by a Nobel Prize scientist Erwin Schrödinger, who sheds light on many a disciplines and gives his subjective opinion on it. I will not comment on his view.

You are waiting for a taxi. First one passes; you stop it. The fare is too expensive; you let it go; next one; still expensive; third one; no better. You start loosing patience. You think you might never end up taking a taxi for a reasonable price. You are on the verge of giving it all up and paying whatever the next taxi driver will ask you for.

Does this situation sound familiar?

Before you give up, wait and think. Remember the commonly cited and well-known phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” This is not a mere sound. There is a meaning in these words. Before you give up, try to master whatever patience you can and wait. Perhaps not the very next taxi but the one after that, or the third one would surely agree to relieve your anxiety of waiting for a reasonable price.

You are in the market, trying to buy fresh fruits. You ask the price and get back a response that paints a frown upon your face. You go for the next one, and next one, and yet another one. You start despairing. Wait. Don’t. Persevere little bit more and rest assured you will find what you look for for a price you are ready to pay.

You are looking for a good partner of opposite sex for a little romance or adventure. People around you seem too superficial, too uninteresting or plain stupid. Your quest enhances to online reaches of the Internet. People talk the talk and show the show. You meet some of them in real life and are utterly disappointed by an unimaginable gap between reality and virtuality. You decide to go on socializing a bit more than you are used to. You might end up with someone, who, in retrospect, turned out to be looking for something a little too different from what you were looking for or expected to have.

Does this situation sound familiar?

There are countless similar situations in lives of everyone. In fact, I would venture a guess that our lives are consisted of such situations. Every time, however, we complain, we accuse ourselves of naivety or stupidity, we curse whatever philosophical tenants that give praise to patience and perseverance, and we take options not necessarily beneficial for our long-term well-being.

Think about it. Try to relive events of past hour or past day. Would you be better off if you waited a little bit longer before you moved ahead with your choices, if there were a quintessential guarantee that your initial thoughts and preferences would come true? In most cases it is a resounding YES.

Is it better to skim through life in an impatient and superficial way, reassuring our souls that we have one life too short to wait, and that we have to run not to be lagged behind? Or is it better to wait a little longer and live a life, as we conceived it in our mind; a life close to ideal, given the possibility existed? No one of course is asked to wait eternity; nor one has to, however difficult and incredible this idea might seem.

I first started to apply for jobs while I was still studying. At the beginning, there was no success; I wasn’t even trying hard but it annoyed me somewhat to get refusals at best or no answer at usual when applying for jobs. Two years on, about to finish up my studies and I still was applying for jobs and still either getting refusals. Situation was becoming critical. I was about to quit the university and I still had no job. There were excuses, or justifications, if you want, for why I didn’t get in most cases even an opportunity to present myself for an interview. For one, my previous lack of specialized experience in domains in which I was interested in. For two, the non-Europeanness and non-Americanness of my passport. And no matter that I had two degrees backed by Swiss universities and spoke five languages. I was, just like everyone else in similar situations, about to abandon and embark on an adventure somewhere without a grand plan or money. University was done for. I decided to do what I wanted ever since several years. I came to Egypt to learn Arabic and to get more intimate with Egyptian culture and traditions. After two months in Egypt, I was running out of money and hope I would ever find a job. I was ready to take just about any job. I applied everywhere: from Australia to India to Egypt to Switzerland to America. No success. A lucky incident of noticing a familiar company name in the business directory in Cairo brought me what I have been looking for so long: a good job in a well-known company.

Once, I was obsessed by an idea to establish a NGO, which would serve as an umbrella for many youth organizations. The objective was to bring many brilliant and motivated young people together. This youth would then envision a future they would like to live in and would go about making it happen. I started off without any knowledge of how to create a NGO. I talked about it to a lot of people, most of whom dismissed the idea as utopia or thought I am crazy. I talked perhaps a year before I started doing anything. By then, I was already wondering if it made any sense to do anything in the absence of any positive feedback. But I persevered. I got a template of a business plan (I heard I needed one to create an organization). I took a look at it. This gave me an idea of what a business plan might contain. I again went on talking to people about my idea but this time armed with something I thought was a good sketch of a business plan drafted by my own hand. At least fifteen serious and competent people, upon seeing what I wrote, gave me their feedback, implicitly implying the unrealistic nature of my undertaking. Even after my business plan looked decent enough, many thought I belonged to the realm of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy world. I had so scarce encouraging feedback and support that I can’t even now understand how I persevered. All along, of course, my idea got more refined; more details emerged; many dull angles disappeared; many new views appeared. Eventually, I ended up creating the NGO I wanted, although it looked quite different from my original idea.

There were countless other lesser-scale occasions in my life, and I am sure in lives of others.

Our world is illusionary. The illusion consists of the fact that things and events are taken to have singular or rare occasions, occurrences, and opportunities of our preference. That is why we are usually impatient and exhibiting excessive hurriedness in taking options and making choices. We think we will miss opportunities and we just take whatever that comes our way. Later on, we complain how life was unfair to us, whereas it is us who are unfair to ourselves.

Those who realize the existence and extent of this illusion are the ones who live their lives to their fullest.

Life is statistics: bigger number of occurrences and events bring higher probability of realizing our preferred choices. All that remains is to wait little bit for statistics to accumulate. And usually it IS a little bit.

P.S. I still get somewhat bothered when, on my way home, I have to wait ten minutes and let go ten taxis at 3am in some lost part of Cairo. But deep inside myself I always know that the 11th taxi will be the lucky strike. In retrospect, I am right, although in might be the 12th :)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Selected on 26.11.2007

Guantanamo document confirms psychological torture
After Wikileaks 7th of November 2007 release of the 2003 Guantanamo Bay (Camp Delta) Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the Pentagon attempted to play down the document's revelations of systematic human rights violations, claiming the procedures were quickly changed. Wikileaks has obtained the 2004 Guantanamo bay SOP which affirms the 2003 procedure and entirely contradicts the Pentagon claims.

China in Africa: Developing ties
Africa's need for new and bigger capital investments and China's hunger for exploration of more natural resources and investments in foreign economies are matching in Africa.

Zero Carbon House
The Zero Carbon House is a low energy demonstration project to show how renewable energy can create a unique living experience on a remote island in a severe climate. A holistic approach has been taken to eliminating household carbon emissions that would normally result from heating and powering the home, running the family car and growing and transporting food.

If America should go Communist
Leon Trotsky's infamous manifesto written in 1934 on what will happen if America became a communist country. It would be interesting to conduct now this thought-experiment and imagine America transformed into Communism in the modern world and the implications thereof.

Flying Spaghetti Monster
The Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as the Spaghedeity) is the deity of a parody religion called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its system of beliefs, "Pastafarianism". The religion was founded in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution.

Winner of the 2006 yoyo world championships
Watch this video and see what a man can do with yoyo... This shows how even the most dul lof sports, or so I thought before at least, can be turned into the most creative of human endeavors.

Obama open to limited legalization of Marijuana
Obama's past is fast catching on him..:) He wants now to legalize a partial use of Marijuana evoking its similarities with morphine..

Daylight map of the world
Amazing imaging.. Good usage put to Google technology. You can trace lifetiem where at what time is light!

Computer Enhancers
Dozens of improvements to, totally meaningless, or humorous (intentional and otherwise), computer messages. Even Bush is not spared.

The Earth Clock
Every essential detail, including world population statistics, CO2 emissions, oil pumped, nuclear waste and more, rendered in an instantaneous way. You can have the same number projectiosn for a week, a month, a year. Amazing!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: Habits of ordinary Egyptians...

On streets

  1. Cars, taxis, buses all HORN all the time…no matter if there is an obstacle, a passenger crossing the street, a stranded animal stuck in the middle of the road, or nothing at all. They horn and horn… I have seen a motorbike riding through a lonely street and horning all along…
  2. Anyone who seems to be vaguely different from a typical Egyptian – basically this category includes people with fair skin, blue/green eyes, brunet/blond/red hair, light color of skin – is greeted on streets. You walk along a street and people greet you, ask you where you are from tell their name and then say "You are welcome." You take a cab, the cabbie looks at you asks where you from are and says "Welcome, welcome." No matter if you say you have been in Egypt for 1 day on visit, 5 months working, or 4 years living. As long as you have a slight accent in Egyptian colloquial or look like a foreigner, they never fail to welcome you.
  3. Introducing themselves on streets, restaurants, clubs. Welcoming is one part of the story. Frequently, you might be stopped and asked what your name is without any visual or other prompting. They will then happily tell their name and walk away, having an air of someone whose day was made by this encounter. I was once sitting on a pavement outside in front of a restaurant, having a conversation (in English) with a potential employer, when I was suddenly tapped on a shoulder. I turned around, still talking on the phone only to see an Egyptian man, in his 40s, well-dressed and smiling at me. He asked me, quite ignoring the fact that I was talking on the phone, what my name was, told consequently his name, inquired whether I was English or American, and walked away with even a wider smile. I was left flabbergasted and managed hardly to finish my conversation.
  4. Exchange of telephone numbers. This is especially common among taxi drivers. You take a taxi, make a small talk with the cabbie to leave a good impression and not to seem a total jerk a.k.a. ignorant foreigner, which will then allow you to pay fairly instead of an overblown price you might be asked for otherwise. You make a small talk, and if it is in Arabic, however ridiculous or scarce you knowledge of it is, and guaranteed they like you, which then leads them to take your number. This is done in such a sure and overconfident way that it leaves no room for doubt or suspicion as to whether you will or will not give it. No one asks your permission to have you r number. They just take out their phones (interestingly, most of cabbies have phones more expensive then I have – K700 SonyEriccson) and ask you to type your number on their mobiles. It is impolite if you refuse. I never did.
  5. (Applies to foreign women only) If you are a female and you look foreigner – by virtue of your dresses or expression of your face – you have a more-than-50% chance of being approached and talked to. In difference from usual welcomes and name exchange, foreign women are also asked what they do in the city and country, for how long and if there is anything that can be done for them. If you say you are looking for a specific shop to buy something, it is not excluded that the Egyptian guy will offer his services of accompanying you and helping you to obtain whatever you look for. He will do so usually for free but in anticipation of you leaving your number or for a possibility of a further encounter.
  6. Taxis horn at you passing by. You walk along a street with an unintentional and casual way, you hear a horn from behind; you turn around to see an approaching taxi blinking at you with its from lights. If you react in any possible way, be it winking, raising your hand, or merely smiling, the taxi will stop and ask where you want to be taken. I usually wave and thank the driver aloud and continue walking along my way.
  7. Baksheesh for sake of baksheesh. There is a heightened presence of dismissed military on streets. Soldiers, sergeants, captain are ubiquitous and armed usually with AK-47 automatic guns. I don’t quite yet get the purpose of their presence. I witnessed street fights almost in front of these soldiers who looked with just as much amazement at people hitting each other as other uncommitted bystanders. These dismissed soldiers however are not shy to ask for baksheesh, a tip, whenever they think you look rich enough or foreign enough. I once went out of taxi and started walking towards my hostel in the city center. I had then a sergeant who started walking along me. I looked at him quizzically and surprised, he started saying something in Egyptian I did not quite get. He then realized I am not getting his introductory tale, went straight to the point and asked for flis, money. I asked why and he said baksheesh. Oh, I was surprised. This was the first time someone asked me for baksheesh without rendering any service or favor. The person just wanted me to give him some money. He was not begging. But eh thought its rather normal to stop a foreigner in an impromptu manner and ask him for money. This habit is also quite applied by men who clean streets. You pass by in a taxi; you stop on red. A man who happens to be cleaning the street approaches you and asks you for money. I usually give them a pound or two, although there is no apparent reason why I would give them money, besides the resulting feeling incited by knowledge of despicable conditions they work in and the insignificant amount of money they get for their work.
  8. Water coming from above, but it s not a rain. Due to warm weather conditions, it is widespread to use ACs in buildings, offices, even in elevators. What is somewhat uncommon is to feel drops of water or sometimes even streams coming over your head and shoulders when you walk on a street. AC water, that is. Another source of uncalled for water droplets on your clothes and head are the myriad of sèche-linge (dryers on which you hang your clothes for drying) overhead.
  9. Telling directions .Usually when you ask for directions to anyone seeming local, you will get some. Question is whether what you get will correspond with reality. I got plenty of times wrong directions, and it wasn’t due to my lack of Arabic to communicate. It just seems that people don’t want to seem unhelpful and prefer to tell you something rather than nothing. It is reminiscent of Japanese. There is however a slight difference. Here you can tell if they don’t know by the vagueness of their directions, whereas in Japan you usually get quite precise directions, however wrong they might eventually be.

In restaurants

  1. It is very rare to find a waiter in however an expensive a restaurant to have a decent command of English. No one needs a waiter being able to recite from top of his head Shakespeare or Chaucer. All a foreigner needs is a waiter to understand simple phrase in English, mostly about food ordering. Even simple "I would like to…" or "Please wait…" is usually misunderstood. They just smile and bring you whatever they think you ordered.
  2. In response to you ordering something in a restaurant, waiters in Egypt say "It's OK," which sounds bizarre for native speakers or anyone knowledgeable of subtleties of the language. This "It's OK" is a direct translation of Meshi or Haadr, which means agreement, OK, or good depending on context. Imagine yourself saying "I would like a strawberry juice" and getting a response "It's OK." Then you call him again and ask him for something else and you get again "It's OK." "It's OK" is used in English in very different circumstances for conveying a rather different message.
  3. In difference from most of Western or American restaurants with fixed menu sets, you can always ask for add-ons or removals from your meal. You can really modify your menu meal up to a point of non-recognition. You can ask like cheese, tomatoes, or anything else to be added or removed. They will smile at you and say "It's OK" or "No problem."
  4. In prestigious restaurants, ordering food might be challenging and patience requiring. You might order a rather simple-sounding meal and have to wait for an hour or 1.5 hours to get what you ordered. The sense of time in restaurants in Egypt is very blurred. You have to be ready to wait for long time even for aperitifs or simple Coke.

To be continued….

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Religion, natural resources and development

There is a running line on headtops of many: the more religious the country and its population, the less developed thus less probability for a better future of that country. In addition, the contrary is generally held as true. The less religious the country or society, the more probable it will soar to a higher level of life standards.

This approach became intuitive only in the light of 21st century history. Religiousness had more than a passing negative impact on the level of development of a society or nation, and that is what I am going to elaborate here.

I will have to hinge on three basic premises. One, a country’s development level (positive or negative) depends on the availability of natural resources in the country. Two, this development depends, among other things, on the religiousness, i.e. the measure of how religious the country’s population is, independently of the religion’s nature. Three, this development depends on beliefs and intentions of its leaders, in other words, man or women who hold the power. I will then give weight to each of these three dimensions.

development = a*natural-resources + b*religiousness + c*leadership

where a, b, and c are corresponding weights.

One of the first inventions, which brought enormous momentum to the world development (entailing much exploitation of natural resources by depletion of minerals), was the revolutionization of warfare, and most importantly the “discovery” of iron.

At the beginning, there was the “Golden race” of people who lived like demigods with carefree heart, remote from toil and misery and who, at the end of their reign, were transformed into “divine spirits … watchers over mortal men, bestowers of wealth.” Then there followed the Silver race, “much inferior” to the Golden race, “but they too have honor.” The third race, that of Bronze men was “a terrible and fierce race,” characterized by violence and lack of agriculture – a clear sign of civilization’s absence – a people who ate only meat and wild things growing in forests. They were “unshapen hulks, with great strength and indescribable arms growing from their shoulders above their stalwart bodies.” They didn’t have iron, or at least they didn’t know how to work it, and they now lived in the “chill Hades’ house of decay.”[1]

The present is located in the fifth age, the age of the race of Iron men. In terms of moral character, the world of Hesiod’s Iron race contemporaries seems to have been situated somewhere between that of the deformed and violent and primitive Bronze age and that of demigods who lived in the Blessed Isles: although troubled with vice, selfishness and dishonesty, at least the Iron race is civilized. However, Hesiod later introduces the notions of justice and morality as paths that mortal men and women can choose to follow and in which “a kind of Golden Age is open to those who deserve it by their just and virtuous lives.” [2]

Iron needs higher temperatures than copper (1100o – 1150o) to be separated from its ore and, unlike copper and gold, is never found free in nature. Isn’t it remarkable that Hesiod, in his own time, already conceived humans as living in the Iron Age – the age of a metal, which is the most used (with its alloy steel) of all metals, comprising roughly 95% of all the metal tonnage produced worldwide? Evidence suggests the first people to work iron were Hittites during 15th – 13th centuries BC, which happened to coincide with their Golden Age. Hittite lands were rich in mineral reserves of copper, lead, silver and iron. Trade with other countries was limited. Whenever Hittites needed special natural resources, conquest provided the solution, not foreign trade. Hittites zealously guarded the technique of making iron, which they regarded as more precious than gold and which, given its versatility, hardness and low cost, was to proliferate later on.

The art and architecture of Hittites was strongly influenced by neighboring countries. They used stone and brick as well as wooden columns to erect their houses and temples. The Hittites built large palaces, temples and fortifications, upon which carved relieves, adorned walls, gates and entrances. Their religion was one of great syncretism, their central elements being gathered from the Sumerians, Babylonians, and other peoples. It is often characterized by the expression, “1000 gods of Hatti.” By incorporating foreign gods into the Hittite pantheon, the Hittite rulers secured their control over the subdued people. Hittites performed daily cultic rituals, in which the deities were brought food and drink. There were also other festivals, on monthly and annual bases.[3]

And the bigger picture? Metallurgy was already well developed by 3000 BC, from whence the gold plating began. Three uses of metals had the most profound impact: the development of swords, mirrors and coins. Swords, firstly bronze then iron and then steel, revolutionized the entire warfare. Hittites and other nations, which became influential, owned much to this development. Mirrors served to advance human experiences and knowledge about the universe and stars above and ultimately gave birth to the science of optics. Money existed as commodity, from salt to tobacco to cows, from primordial times. The English salary comes from Latin salarius, ‘of salt’ (Roman soldiers were paid in salt). The transition from this proto-money to money proper, coins, took place in Lydia, the Neo-Hittite successor, in 7th century BC. First coins were made of electrum, a natural admixture of gold and silver. Money was what drove the commoditization of products and thus development of economies. As a consequence, the first retail market was introduced in Lydian city Sardis, where everyone could buy and sell for money. The resulting boom of trade transformed Lydia into one of the flourishing cultural and trade centers of the world.[4]

The second important driving force behind the momentous development of the world (also entailing depletion of world forestry and dumping of dangerous chemicals into the nature) was the invention of paper. Among its most profound influences that changed the face of the world has been its usage for producing books, and most notoriously the most republished book in the world – the Bible (well over 1000 major editions since 5th century).

The word paper comes from the Greek term for the ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was formed from beaten strips of papyrus plants. However, paper was invented in China during 2nd century AD. That paper was thin and translucent, not like modern Western paper, and thus only written on one side. Books were invented in India, of Palm leaves. Modern papermaking typically does begin with trees as the raw material, although many non-woody plants can be used. Plants used for papermaking include cotton, wheat straw, sugar cane waste, flax, bamboo, and linen rags. Cotton is used to make US currency, which is 75% cotton and 25% linen, according to the US Treasury Department. But it is the wood pulp that is most commonly used to make paper. The major environmental problems of wood pulping come from its negative impact on forest resources and from its waste by-products such as dioxins and furans; in high pulping areas such as British Columbia, high concentrations of these contaminates led to the closures of some fisheries in 1992.

The increased usage of paper, especially after Gutenberg’s invention of printing mechanism with movable type in 15th century, allowed a rapid proliferation of not only literature-, philosophy- and science-related materials and ideas but also a vast spread of religious doctrines via the Bible (in Europe), which in turn, “boosted” the Renaissance Age and was at grassroots of the Industrial Revolution in and eventual supremacy of Europe, capped by presence of kings such as Louis XIV. Muslims didn’t embrace this technology at that time deeming it un-Islamic.

Now, let’s have a look at several countries in modern times and their level of development.

The Kingdom of Norway is the current top-ranked nation in the UN Human Development Index.[5] The Norwegian economy is an example of mixed economy – a combination of free market and government control. The government controls key areas, such as the vital petroleum sector. The country is richly endowed with natural resources such as petroleum, fish, forests, and minerals. Recent research shows early evidence of massive amounts of coal. Norway has around 4.6 million inhabitants of which 86% belong to the Church of Norway, which professes the Lutheran Christianity. Despite this big number, one survey has found that Norway was the least religious country in Western Europe.[6]

But Norway wasn’t always well developed. Prior to mid-19th century, agriculture was pervasive in the country. The Industrial Revolution started to take pace in Norway somewhat later than in the rest of Europe, and by 1910 the industrial output exceeded the agricultural one. It was only in 1969 that oil reserves were discovered. From this moment on, it was clear to Norwegian leaders that the only way the country could effectively use petro-krones for sustainable development of the economy was via increased investments in research and development and continuous alliances and collaborations with European and American institutions and companies.[7]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's economy is petroleum-dominated; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's GDP, compared with 40% from the private sector. Saudi Arabia possesses about 25% of the world's proven total petroleum reserves as of 2005. The Basic Law of Government adopted in 1992 declares that the Koran is the constitution of the country. There are no recognized political parties or national elections. The king must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders, and other elements in Saudi society. Saudi Arabia, unlike Norway, is the 76th in the UN Human Development Index.[8] Innovation (thus research and development) is largely stifled and is considered by majority of population as un-Islamic. Saudi Arabia ranks 85th on the Index of Economic Freedom.[9]

Summary table


In ancient times religiousness came in handy as was seen from the Hittite story. It was also important to have visionary leadership at the top which would lead the country in a direction of prosperity.

Numerous ancient civilizations including Aztecs, Inca, ancient Egyptians, and ancient Chinese were, with small exceptions, notoriously religious. Their religions gave not only push-forward for development of their art, culture, science, and sophisticated social structures but also served as governance and law dispersal systems. However, their religions were being perpetually revived and were never considered to have obtained a final form.

In Middle Ages both Europe and Muslim countries were religious. The latter were, almost till 14th century, more developed than the former. Since the Industrial Revolution, the situation has reversed. Majority of Chinese and Indians are still religious and both countries are poised to overtake the US in terms of development.

It became almost a common-folklore that natural resources and leadership corruption are correlated and a country with religious population and leaders and abundant natural resources is doomed to decline. These premises were present in past but the result was the total opposite. Many can state that this is rather true in cases of Saudi Arabia and Iran nowadays. It thus seems that, besides natural resources and religiousness, the leadership and their political agenda matter as well.

What is the prediction for future? The three dimensions might give a rough estimate of what the future of a region, a country or of the world might look like. Without further ado I will give here the resulting weights I calculated using some empiricism and evidence from American and Chinese histories, not provided here. Normalizing the above equation of development level, we obtain the following result for modern times and future:

development = 0.25*natural-resources + 0.3*religiousness + 0.45*leadership

The development will depend 45% on the leadership, 30% on religiousness of the population and 25% on the availability of natural resources.

One vital fact, it seems, is that the “fixedness” of a religion (ex. Islam, which is as it was in 6th century) plays a crucial role in determining the “sign” of the religiousness factor in the above equation. When the religion is “fixed” the factor b (0.3) obtains a negative sign and development and religiousness become negatively correlated.

We also must not forget that the equation yields only a probability, not a guarantee, that a country will develop.

There are no whole truths;

All truths are half-truths.

It is trying to treat them as

Whole truths that plays devil.

- Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues (1953)

[1] Hesiod, Theogeny and Works and Days, translated with an introduction by M.L.West (Oxford University Press, 1988).

[2] Giamatti, Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic.

[3] See Encyclopedia LexicOrient - .

[4] Peter Watson, History of Ideas, Oxford 2005.

[7] See, for example, the article at about the role Norway plays in the scientific and technological cooperation with other European countries and Australia.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 5) First day...

One of most important reasons for me to come to Egypt was to learn Arabic. Second most important reason was to get acquainted more closely with Egyptian culture and traditions, of which I have been fond of reading.

First traces of Arabic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic, date back to 8th century BC. By 4th century AD, several Arab kingdoms were flourishing in southern Iraq, southern Syria and Central Arabia, which developed the tradition of pre-Islamic (Jahili) Arabic poetry, Modern Arabic is classified as a language with 27 sub-languages in ISO 639-3. These sub-languages – otherwise known as colloquials – are spoken in more than 26 countries in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Western Sahara.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) derives from Classical Arabic, the only surviving member of the Old North Arabian dialect group, attested epigraphically since the 6th century, which has been a literary language and the liturgical language of Islam since the 7th century.

This resumed my general knowledge about Arabic language when I stepped into the office of STA Travel agency in Geneva. I knew no particular details or specifics. I expressed my will to study Arabic in Egypt and was told there is indeed a course of Arabic language for different levels of proficiency. At the agency, I didn’t receive any additional information pertaining course except that there were courses for beginners, intermediate and advance, each having a duration of either four or five weeks. I vowed for a one-month beginners course, further anticipating a possibility of taking another one.

Before coming to Egypt my vocabulary of Arabic included three words: Salam, Insha'allah, Yalla. I did not even know the Arabic alphabet.

Shortly after checking in at the hostel for first few nights, I took a quick shower and went to the reception with a list of applied phrases and words such as "thank you," "hello," "how" to be translated into Arabic. The reception guy was very kind, and he translated all phrases and threw few in himself, which he thought would be useful for me.

With this list of few applied phrases and expressions to be useful for taxis, Alexandra and I decided to meet in the morning and go together to the school on the first day. We took the taxi and told him the address "Shera Mahmoud Azmi" (Mahmoud Azmi Street). This street was supposedly short and we would have no problem of finding it, or so we thought at the beginning. We stopped on a street Mahmoud Azmi, and the taxi driver drove off happily, pouching 15 pounds for a drive of maximum 4 pounds, as I found eventually. This did not seem to be a problem at that moment. The problem was that the street, on which we were left, had no school on it. It did not take us long to realize that this was a wrong street. Later on, we understood what the problem was. We were in a wrong part of the city, which happened to have a street called exactly like what we were looking for. All this took time and when we finally took another taxi, this time specifying the part of the city we wanted to go – Muhandissin area – it was getting late. Yes, we were late on the very first day.

Our school, International Language Institute (ILI), is situated in a building in one a residential quarters of Muhandissin area. We quickly went to the second floor where the reception was, and presented ourselves. Alexandra, due to her prior knowledge of Arabic, was placed in the intermediate level, whereas I was to go to the beginners' course.

I entered the room, 15 minutes late, filled with approximately 18 people and class already going on. I was promptly asked to introduce myself and without further ado plunged into the essentials of the first-day lecture with the rest of the class. We were all handed printouts, which in retrospect turned out to be our study books. Only during the class, I discovered that it was the class of Egyptian colloquial. Startled, I asked whether I would learn the "normal" Arabic? A classmate of mine looked at me with puzzled expression of face. He thought I was mocking him. He explained me patiently that this was only a colloquial and I had to check with the reception if I was also to take the MSA course. During the first pause, I went to reception and was informed that indeed I was enlisted for MSA course. The reception officer, an Egyptian woman in her 50s, was amazed at my degree of ignorance and carelessness. I decided to take a course, paid a lot of money for it, but had no idea what this course included. I was amazed myself because there existed no rational explanation or justification.

Our classes usually started at 9am with Egyptian colloquial, followed by the MSA course at 11:30. During the big break, I met several other people, including one American, named Salaadin, namesake of the great Kurdish-Muslim general who repulsed Christian and Jews from Jerusalem at the end of 12th century AD. The course was over at 2pm, and I did not have a proper place to stay. I decided I would stay another night at the hostel, which was quite expensive. The school was helping students to find apartments, but again as I was told later, the school and the brokers involved in the search had their cut, which in some cases elevated the price up to 20%.

On the first day at school, I also met my American friend Tucker, who was in our MSA class. My first impression of him was contrary to what my ultimate impression of him is. During our first lesson of MSA, our teacher started by asking us to repeat Arabic letters after him. You would be amazed to see how all beginners try to interchangeably utter and emit sounds, which had a vague resemblance to what teacher himself was pronouncing. Tucker had the most ridiculous of pronunciations. We were all terrible, especially during the first 30 minutes, but in his case, there was a whole theatre show accompanying his short pronunciation "session". All of us mispronounced greatly even the simplest of letters, and some of us were unable at all to pronounce some letters. We all giggled along our own "performances" but when it came to Tucker many of us, including me, just exploded. I could not help myself but laugh aloud. Even teacher, patiently polite and solemn, cracked a wide smile. Every tie it was his turn to pronounce a letter, he would listen carefully to the teacher, solemnly look for two seconds at teachers lips as if he could gain the fluency of language by a mere look at lips which possess that fluency. This stage was followed by another two seconds of Tucker opening his mouth, but emitting no sound. His facial contours would then twist unnaturally, his mouth moving from half-open to fully open and back to half-open, adjusting its vocal apparatus, his eyes bulging, his nose contracting, for yet another two seconds. The culmination came, as most of us thought, when his brain, after multiple trials, refused to adopt his larynx to a seemingly impossible task of pronunciation. At this moment, he would emit a sound, out of desperation or perhaps hope, which more resembled an ululation or a shriek, differing hugely from what it was to imitate.

Understandably, our first day at school was fun, at least for me. Perhaps the fact that Tucker was quite different from us was what made me talk to him. We both were looking for an apartment but none of us could afford what our school had to offer. We decided we will conduct together our search and returned happily back to our hostel.

The rest of my day, I passed revising my very meager vocabulary of Arabic obtained during our first class and thinking how our choices determine who we ultimately become.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Selected on 18.11.2007

100 ways to save your environment
Most of proposed ways of action are straigforward, require little effort, and can be easily incorporated in every-day lives of many people! Gooooooooo..!!!

Who's on First?Takeoff
Condi and Bush trying to figure out who is the president of China....

A Beautiful paysage
Clouds encroaching on a green mountain..Extraordinary.

100 ways to confuse your roomate
Get rid of an annoying and nerdy roomate. Or just use for fun!!!

25 unexpectedly useful websites for the uncommonly curious
This eclectic list of websites contains so many out of the ordinary pleasures that it is hard to know where to start.

America, country where power is in the hands of dogmatic and religious Christians

Times for presidential elections come closer; talks surrounding presidential candidates become louder.

To be a president of country or even to be considered a presidential candidate, you should preferably have at least one advanced degree. You should also be well versed in politics and have basic knowledge in history and geography.

In case of American presidential candidates "you need to be good at politics and should be graduated from high school." No question of what "good at politics" means. This probably might mean having a basic knowledge of geography and politics, but I don’t think so. There is an interesting video clip explaining some of important "characteristics" that any aspiring "successful" American presidential candidate must possess.

An interesting book by columnist Roger Simon who covered the 1988 presidential campaign, and includes his detailed report on the campaign and some details, which are both informative and wickedly funny. Many a dirty techniques (ex. blackmail) are used to eliminate, hogwash and silence. Bush, for example, struggling to overcome the Wimp Factor, is shown crushing his opponent with base tactics, which included the exploitation of racial fear. Particularly revealing is Simon's I-was-there analysis of how Bush's "media handler," Roger Ailes, generaled his client to victory.

There is however an unwritten criteria, fulfillment of which gives a fighting chance against any Presidential rival and is above and beyond any other criteria: to be religious (necessarily Christian) and (preferably openly) practicing Christian. Many past presidents and of course the incumbent one are religious. Take for example Nixon, who was an outspoken Quaker, hosting religious services in the East Room of White House during his stance as a president. Or Reagan. He once said, "[Americans] must seek Divine guidance in the policies of their government and the promulgation of their laws." The Bible, argued Reagan, held all the answers. "I'm accused of being simplistic at times," he said more than once. "But within that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us." His National Security sessions were held in the presence of a religious scholar, who would advise him based on notions of Second Coming, Paradise, and Original Sin.

It is interesting to see whether America will ever evolve to where a non-Christian candidate would stand a chance of seriously contesting American presidency. (Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman is an exception. During his 2000 vice-presidential run, he managed to out-God all the other candidates).

George W. Bush not only invokes his God in virtually every speech he makes, he also openly admits that he takes his instructions from his God. And look where that has brought the world and America. It brings to mind the words of Sinclair Lewis, who said, "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

The religious right and their supporters have brainwashed the American public into believing that Christianity is patriotic. In fact, according to a recent survey by the First Amendment Center, 65% of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the US to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.

This is a total hogwash. Read the American Constitution. It makes no mention of God or Christianity. Acquaintance with the Bill of Rights will also prove useful.

It was for good reason that America's founders wrote the "separation clause" into the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

It was to protect the minority from tyranny of the majority. America's founders didn’t want it to sink into theocracy. They knew that theocracy always leads to oppression. America's founders wanted to establish a democracy in which the government serves all the people, not just the Christian ones.

America, under recent and not-so-recent presidents, has been sinking deeper and deeper into theocracy. In order to reverse this situation, America needs to vote for candidates who take their instructions not from a deity, but from the people and the Constitution. Otherwise, America will be no longer America envisioned by its founders.

America resembles more and more closely to its declared "enemy" Iran.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Selected on 16.11.2007

Big Bang or Big Goof? Astronomer Challenges 'Seeds' Proof

Most astronomers say that world-famous images from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite show structures of the early universe. But a lone radio astronomer is claiming that the pictures depict nearby hydrogen gas clouds in our own galaxy, calling a key theory into question.

Cold War II

An insightful article by Noam Chomski explaining how Iran's role might or might not evolve into a Cold War II.

Sensitive Guantánamo Bay Manual Leaked Through Wiki Site

A never-before-seen military manual detailing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military's Guantánamo Bay detention facility has been leaked to the web, affording a rare inside glimpse into the institution where the United States has imprisoned hundreds of suspected terrorists since 2002.

Cool photos of lightnings...

Really amazing photos of lightnings...

UK chooses "most ludicrous laws"

Among the most ridiculous laws listed by UKTV Gold were:

  • It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27%)
  • It could be regarded an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen's image upside-down (7%)
  • Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned (5%)
  • In the UK, a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants (4%)
  • The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen (3.5%)
  • It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing (3%)
  • It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour (3%).

  • Source: