Woman loses her job over coffins photo:

A military contractor has fired Tami Silicio, a Kuwait-based cargo worker whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers was published in Sunday's edition of The Seattle Times. Silicio was let go yesterday for violating U.S. government and company regulations.

The Memory Hole:

Since March 2003, a newly-enforced military regulation has forbidden taking or distributing images of caskets or body tubes containing the remains of soldiers who died overseas. Immediately after hearing about this, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request [...] Not surpisingly, my request was completely rejected. Not taking 'no' for an answer, I appealed on several grounds, and--to my amazement--the ruling was reversed. The Air Force then sent me a CD containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins and the services welcoming the deceased soldiers.
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rotary-dial web browser

Phone Dial:

"To use it, one dials an IP address rather than typing a URL. Dots are entered by pressing a button, external to the dial."
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Fecal Tongs

Let Me Show You My Collection of Fecal Tongs:

"Fecal tongs have been part of our world since the dawn of recorded history. One can see them in the Neolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France: Men of the time lacked the know-how to build a hinge, yet they still expressed a desire for fecal tongs. Genghis Khan is said to have always kept his personal tongbearer at his side. Whether used as a medical necessity or as a pleasure, the history of fecal tongs is in many ways the history of man."
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I, for one, welcome our new Martian Andromeda Strain microbial overlords

I've been reading "A Draft Test Protocol For Detecting Possible Biohazards In Martian Samples Returned To Earth" (PDF.) It's pretty interesting -- they're even considering the possibility that Martian life might not be carbon-based:

If there were a life-form on Mars based on other than carbon-containing molecules, the energies holding such molecules together would not be much different than those for proteins and polynucleotides. Hence, bond breakage by heat or gamma radiation should be similar for Earth and Mars life-forms, and sterilization conditions for Earth microorganisms should eradicate microorganisms of similar size from Mars.

Irrespective of the chemical basis of any life-form, a confidence level of sterilization can be provided with only two assumptions: 1) any reproducing life-form must be based on macromolecules (i.e., polymers) with interatomic covalent bonds (not crystal lattices), and 2) since all such bonds have similar strength, destroying these bonds destroys the life-form.

Through most of the document they don't refer so much to "life" as to the problem of "introducing a replicating entity of non-terrestrial origin into the biosphere." But they've got a pretty nifty definition of "life" in there too:

Evidence for only a subset of these properties in an extraterrestrial specimen might constitute a sign of life (e.g., evidence for a self-sustaining catalytic system). However, it is the presence and combination of all of these properties that define life as we know it.

  • Life is catalytic
    • There should be significant deviations from what chemical kinetics predicts
    • Life modifies its environment
    • Life consumes energy
    • Life creates waste products
    • Life is exothermic
    • Life uses thermodynamic disequilibria to build and maintain other thermodynamic disequilibria (in open systems or within a "wall")
  • Life is genetic
    • There will be some system for storing and propagating information
    • There will be molecular distributions with significant capacity for complexity
  • Life replicates and evolves
    • There will be evidence for replication of structures and complexity
    • There may be evidence (structural & chemical) of evolution of form & function
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The Holy Foreskin

A History of the Fourteen Foreskins of Jesus Christ:
"In the end, it was Charroux who 'won' the battle of the foreskins when Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) issued a bull granting indulgences to any and all who made a pilgrimage to the Charroux foreskin. Just think - you could have sins forgiven by God just for getting a glimpse at a bit of severed genitalia! But then tragedy struck: the foreskin went missing!"

(More here and here.)

Current Music: Delerium -- Mecca ♬