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March 31, 2006

A little early for April Fool's jokes...

...but what the heck. Salon.com's "Bradsheet" is worth a look.

Yes, that's BRADsheet...as in Brad Pitt. They've turned their women's-issues blog, Broadsheet, into a Brad-blog for one day only. And the results are a hoot:

Why Brad? Because he is simultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of race, class, gender and regional or national identity. As one of this generation's most popular actors, Pitt has explored many of the cultural and marital tensions of our emerging postmodern era. Depicting masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis and various hair colors, his characters enact complex postmodern agencies; they are never wholly coherent, they are often self-destructive, and they rely on a certain amount of play -- between stability and instability, between life and death, between autonomy and alter-dependency, between control and abandon, between Maddox and Zahara. His characters explore the complex and changing postmodern cultural landscape. Tracing Brad's work and personal life through a variety of theoretical texts and celebrity-interest publications, we hope to explain his multidimensional postmodernity and raise essential questions, especially given recent events, about whether or not he is God's gift to women.

[...]

Wednesday's New York Daily News Rush and Molloy column carried a story about Brad that gave me pause. The column repeats a Star magazine story about "a bit of a blowout" between Brad and Angelina about whether or not to get hitched. Reportedly, the fight ended with Angelina storming out of their Paris pad, Maddox and Zahara in tow. This tale echoes a narrative that has been batted around in the tabloids for months, but seems to be gaining credibility with every weekend that we're told Brad and Angelina plan to marry at George Clooney's Lake Como estate -- and then don't! It seems that Brad is pushing for marriage before the birth of their child, while Angelina is resisting. According to the latest French source, "Brad says it's like he can do nothing right these days ... They argue about everything, from his cigarette smoking to world politics to how much he loves her! And apparently Angelina has told him she prefers the way he was when they first met -- independent and masculine -- and that she's getting tired of his whining and possessiveness."

[...]

No discussion of Brad issues is complete without this comprehensive hair-ography from emerging gossip site TMZ. Titled "How Brad Morphs Into His Lovers," the TMZ piece chronicles Brad's style transformations from Juliette Lewis-era serial-killer chic into the Gwyneth period, when he and G actually got the exact same haircut. From there, we mosey through the Jennifer Aniston golden-highlights years, and finally we come to the current era of Angelina-inspired neutral tones, motorcycle jackets and dark locks. This spectrum of aesthetic choices has much to teach us about Brad's very essence, TMZ notes. The site quotes psychotherapist Candice Slobin saying, "There's some essential element of his own self-identity that may be missing. He's absorbing something into his own identity that has not developed on its own."

BTW, the mascot is cute, too:

It's Brad--as a BROAD!

Studliest broad I ever saw.

Everything's coming up roses for Helen Thomas!

And it couldn't happen to a nicer, more deserving lady:

Helen Thomas, surrounded by a rich and fragrant reward

And here is why she got those blooms...

The campaign was the brainchild of Clarity Sanderson, a 31-year-old Democratic activist from Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, who was motivated by the sharp exchange between Thomas and Bush, and by an op-ed article Thomas wrote about the exchange in the Salt Lake Tribune.

"Those two things set me off," Sanderson said in a telephone interview Friday.

Sanderson, a work-at-home web designer and mother of two who is co-chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Progressive Caucus, said she saw a note on the website democraticunderground.com suggesting that people e-mail Thomas to thank her for asking Bush "the questions all Americans want answered about Iraq."

"I thought, 'Let's take it a step farther," she said, and sent an e-mail asking people to donate to her Pay Pal account to send roses to Thomas.

That was last Friday. By Monday she'd received more than $2,200. She ordered the roses and 100 glass vases from an online floral service in San Francisco, Organic Bouquet, and they were delivered Thursday.

Thomas, the 85-year-old veteran White House journalist whose outspoken criticism of the Bush administration has drawn much hate mail from Bush supporters in recent years, said Friday that she was overwhelmed by the avalanche of roses.

"It sure beats the brickbats," she said, referring to hundreds of vitriolic e-mails she's received since last week's encounter with Bush. "Some of them attack you ad hominem and call you a traitor and ask if you've ever been to Iraq," she said. "I think it's the frustration of those who are angry with me and take it out in e-mail. I think there should be a logical debate, but maybe that's not possible during an ongoing war."

Thomas shared her roses with Hearst bureau chief Chuck Lewis and other colleagues and sent the bulk of them to wounded military personnel at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Asked about Bush's response to her pointed question about his Iraq policy, she said, "He could not answer my question. He kept referring to Afghanistan. He never articulated the reasons we're in Iraq. I don't think there's any justification for an unprovoked war against somebody who did nothing against us."

Thomas had received hundreds of supportive e-mails by Friday afternoon, bearing such messages as, "O-M_G … I LOVE THAT LADY!" "We all owe her so much more than roses," "Her little finger has more class than George Bush does," and "Helen Thomas kick ass!"

Sanderson said she's never spoken with Thomas but received an e-mail from her via Hearst office manager Kristen Collie, who wrote that "Helen asked me to send you the following note:

"Blessed are the peacemakers. The bounty of beautiful roses from such wonderful people has lifted my heart and will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. Thank you for caring that others may live."

A classy gesture, and very reminiscent of something Senator Barbara Boxer did with HER roses not long ago. Not to mention how she got them, too:

Boxer was particularly aggressive, pointing out what she said were inconsistencies in Rice's statements about the imminent threat of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

"This is a pattern here of what I see from you," Boxer said. "It's very troubling. ... It's hard for me to let go of this war because people are still dying."

She said Rice has not acknowledged those deaths, has not laid out an exit strategy for Iraq and has been unwilling to admit mistakes -- including going to war over weapons of mass destruction found later not to exist.

"If you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you will rethink it," Boxer said.

BTW, Condi finally acknowledged those, er, "mistakes" today. She's still not admitting, though, that the BIG one was invading Iraq, period. Too little, too late, too bad. No roses for her!

Fat Tony's "Vaffanculo" moment has consequences for the wrong person

It's always so lovely to see when church authorities have their priorities straight. Take, for example, the case of a freelance photographer working for a diocesan newspaper and SCOTUS judge Antonin "Fat Tony Vaffanculo" Scalia:

A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it.

"I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing," said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University.

Smith snapped the photo of Scalia flicking his hand under his chin after a Herald reporter asked the conservative jurist his response to people who question his impartiality on matters of church and state.

Smith wouldn't give up the photo earlier this week but chose to release it when he learned Scalia said his gesture had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald. Smith, who was standing in front of the judge, said the Herald "got the story right."

Smith said the Pilot had an obligation at that point "to bring some clarity to it."

"I felt that same obligation," Smith said. "I had to say what I knew and come forward with it.."

The weekly Catholic newspaper made a "journalistic decision" not to run or release the photo, said Archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon. "Because he breached that trust with the editor, we will no longer engage his services as a freelance photographer," Donilon said.

"It's nothing personal," added Pilot editor Antonio Enrique. "I need to try and find people I can trust."

While news outlets from across the country sought Smith's photo yesterday, the archdiocese said there's no proof that Scalia uttered an obsenity in the church. Smith said Scalia said, "To my critics, I say, 'Vaffanculo,' " while making the gesture. That's Italian for (expletive) you.

The expletive in question is "fuck". And the Italian phrase, "Va fa en culo", means, more or less, "get fucked up the ass." Always glad to help a censor out.

But y'know, I fail to see how Smith's photo of the fat smirker wiping his greasy chin (which you can view at the link to the full piece) constitutes any journalistic breach of trust. Smith was only doing his job--which is to say, taking pictures and getting the story to go with them. Isn't that what the editors of the paper were trusting him to do? And if it were in any way wrong, don't you think a photojournalism prof such as he would be aware of it--and decide against releasing the picture and reporting what the judge did?

Nope, nothing wrong with what Peter Smith did; all journalists should be so scrupulous and honest. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

On the other hand, this episode does tell us some things about the judicial trustworthiness of Hizzoner. And not very pleasant ones, either.

Maybe the atheists have a point after all: If there were a God whom we all should fear, wouldn't this rotten theocratic judge (who likes to style himself as a defender of godfearin' virtues) be struck dead on the spot for essentially uttering an obscenity in God's house? And in any event, seeing the graphic evidence once again that God doesn't work that way--shouldn't we stop fearing God, and stop toadying to those who say we must (who are, themselves, playing God by doing so)?

And more importantly still: Shouldn't the media, as servants of freedom and democracy, see it as a bounden duty to expose these whited sepulchres?

The truth shall make you free. But first, it will piss an unjust judge off.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: March of the Penguins, Venezuelan style

Penguins are socialist!

Marching "socialist" penguins herald the opening of the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair, promoting the use of Linux over Microsoft. Events are being held all over Latin America; this one's in Caracas.

Quotable: Stirling Newberry on Andy Card's burnout

"Andy Card kept more of his own sense of self than most people who can survive George W. Bush, who is roughly like handling a psychotic homocidal maniac, in that the slightest peeve or tick is enough to get someone ruined - they call disagreeing with Bush 'Walking into the propeller' in the White House. Bush believes that the way out is to get more dedicated Yes men in place."

-- Stirling Newberry

9-11 Truth movement comes to Caracas!

Looks like Hugo Chavez's weekly talk show, Alo Presidente, could get mighty interesting, mighty soon:

Billionaire philanthropist Jimmy Walter and WTC survivor William Rodriguez this week embarked on a groundbreaking trip to Caracas Venezuela in which they met with with the President of the Assembly and will soon meet with Venezuelan President himself Hugo Chavez in anticipation of an official Venezuelan government investigation into 9/11.

Rodriguez was the last survivor pulled from the rubble of the north tower of the WTC, and was responsible for all stairwells within the tower. Rodriguez represented family members of 9/11 victims and testified to the 9/11 Commission that bombs were in the north tower but his statements were completely omitted from the official record.

Jimmy Walter has been at the forefront of a world tour to raise awareness about 9/11 and has still yet to receive any response to his million dollar challenge in which he offers a $1 million reward for proof that the trade towers' steel structure was broken apart without explosives.

Rodriguez said that he was told an FBI agent had asked the hotel him and Walter were staying in turn over a list of names of residents. Upon hearing this, the National Assembly provided armed military protection for the entirety of the trip. In addition, Walters said that CIA agents were seen surveilling the beach on which he and Rodriguez had handed out free DVD's a day earlier.

The US government attempted to sabotage the trip by putting Rodriguez, who has been decorated at the White House itself, and Walter on a no fly list.

Rodriguez and Walter are educating top Venezuelan officials on the evidence that 9/11 was a self-inflicted wound carried out by the military-industrial complex. They have also appeared on every Venezuelan television and radio station both private and state owned and have given huge presentations to major universities.

Upon visiting, Rodriguez said that the President of the Assembly, Nicolas Maduro's home was brimming with books, videos and documents about the 9/11 cover-up. Maduro, Venezuela's top legislator, intoned that he was ready to create an international investigative committee, looking into the "international crime scene" that is 9/11 and that this would be structured via Hugo Chavez's government.

Rodriguez and Walter are also set to appear on Hugo Chavez's weekly broadcast 'Alo Presidente' - which is often subsequently the source of major international headlines.

Ordinarily I don't link to Prison Planet, as I find a lot of its positions on conspiracies--er, shall we say, a bit iffy. However, the strong likelihood that 9-11 was an inside job is fast gaining traction (23 million links on Google alone!), even if some of the theories as to how it went down don't quite add up. And the fact that Chavez is willing to give airtime and a hearing to two members of the 9-11 Truth movement is indeed heartening, regardless of the outcome.

Would that more world leaders could be so open. The relevant ones, alas, aren't even willing to testify before a commission under oath.

March 30, 2006

Hooters Air goes tits-up

Well, we could see this coming from waaaay off in the distance. Just like a cheap pair of silicone boobies...

Using planes operated by Pace, Hooters Air launched its first scheduled flights from Myrtle Beach to Atlanta on March 6, 2003.

Brooks' planes not only advertised his Hooters restaurants but became one of the Grand Strand's more unusual promotional tools, with its fleet of orange-and-white Boeing jets.

The chairman of Hooters of America - the international restaurant chain known for its chicken wings and female servers dressed in snug T-shirts and orange shorts - said he hoped to "have a little fun" in an industry that had always fascinated him.

In July, the airline served 15 destinations, including nonstop flights to Nassau, Bahamas.

But high fuel prices and other challenges in the airline industry brought the fun to an end.

"The flying industry is in a terrible mess," Brooks said. "I've got a fair amount of money, but I don't have enough to fix this animal."

Especially since airlines that depend on sexy stewardesses for a draw have long been an anachronism. No one seriously gives a shit for that anymore...and anyone who does, should frankly stay off airplanes, as he's likely to be drunk and obnoxious all the time. That's one thing his fellow fliers could cheerfully do without.

Plus, in the post-9/11 era, the last thing you want is a pair of falsies staring you in the face; what you really crave is competence and reassurance. In other words, a flight attendant just like the skinny, take-no-shit, "Noo Yawk"-accented granny I had on my last flight home from Minneapolis. She was no surgically-enhanced spring chicken, but by Goddess, she made me feel safe. No terrorist would dare whip out a box cutter on HER watch!

And, needless to say, the airline I flew on was NOT Hooters. I'd no more fly their airline than I would eat their greasy food. The only hooters that should be flying are the kind that feed on mice.

Okay, this really fucking pisses me off...

Pardon the indelicate and unladylike language, but when you see what follows, I'm sure you'll agree with me for using it:

Possibly even more earsplitting than the chatter about Katie Couric's plans to leave her post at NBC's "Today" show for the "CBS Evening News" is the talk about whether she can cut it. Again and again commentators have mouthed off on whether they think she has the "gravitas" to handle the position. An article in the New York Observer asks an interesting question: What is gravitas? It's not Couric's oft-cited attributes (or weaknesses, depending on whom you ask): her legs and perky giggle. (Never mind her interviewing skills or ability to hold her own on-air for three-hour stretches.)

How exactly has the term gained traction as the defining characteristic of a worthy evening news anchor? It seems that "dignity" or "trustworthiness" would be sufficient. If you ask Connie Chung, gravitas requires something more specific: balls. Well, the Observer says that "delicacy prevented" Chung from actually defining it as such, but the suggestion was made nonetheless (leave it to Broadsheet to throw delicacy to the wayside). She did say that "it is essentially a chauvinistic word."

Chung, who co-anchored the "Evening News" for two years, may know a thing or two about what it takes to make it in this boys club. She said that David Carr's recent New York Times column, in which he concluded that "the fact that networks seem willing to concede that the best man for the job is clearly a woman means that it just isn't the same job anymore," drove her nuts. "The news business is changing, so the importance of the evening news is diminished, so therefore it's finally acceptable to people if it's a woman who anchors," she said. "It's really a shame, because I'd really love for it to be the same-thing level of prestige -- but with a woman."

As the Observer points out, there is one example of a female anchor holding her own, but only by accident. Elizabeth Vargas has taken charge of ABC's "World News Tonight" after coanchor Bob Woodruff was seriously wounded while reporting in Iraq. But don't forget the upset over her upcoming maternity leave -- you can almost hear the detractors scream "See! So unfit and unreliable!"

Chung's words -- and the whole "gravitas" debate -- echo back to Maureen Dowd's Dec. 10 column, which recounted a conversation she'd had with a male TV exec who said that Vargas, then under consideration for the position, might not have the "gravitas to hold that anchor chair." One of Dowd's conclusions seems incredibly relevant now: "By the time women get to take over something -- like Hollywood or Bush administration diplomacy -- the thing is already devalued beyond recognition."

See, this is what's so fucking insane about the US TV news business. If it's not the whorish obsequiousness toward BushCo (and other corporate interests), it's this blatant sexism that still, after all these years of feminism, pervades that industry, just as it so tiresomely and boringly does every other.

So let me just ask all you punditoids this: Why, in the name of all the Goddesses, are women considered not serious enough to be nightly-news anchors in the US? It can't be because they're any less capable of asking the appropriate questions; Helen Thomas recently mopped the floor with Dubya's ass, and polished it to a high shine. And she's a frickin' octogenarian! She's been doing this for a living since JFK was in the White House. So don't tell me women can't ask hard questions...just look at Helen, and marvel at how she has more guts than all the men in the White House press corps combined.

And up here, north of the 49th Parallel, we've had women anchors for so long that the very idea of women NOT being anchors is frankly absurd. Sandie Rinaldo of CTV's nighttime newscast comes to mind. She's on weekends now, but when Lloyd Robertson retires, guess who'll come out of the wings to replace him? If not Sandie, it will surely be Lisa LaFlamme--another estimable lady who can hold her own all alone behind that big ol' honkin' desk. (I'd be seriously surprised if it were another man. I often get the feeling they're only using Ravi Baichwal so's to keep up with CBC's Ian Hanomansing--a.k.a. Ian Hanomandsome, in my heart-of-hearts. And yeah, women do look--got a problem with that???)

So when I see all this hogwash about women lacking "gravitas" enough to be anchors, I call FUCKING BULLSHIT! Equal is equal. Isn't it? Or have we not progressed since the bad old days when Christine Craft was basically shafted for having a birthday? After frickin' YEARS of dutifully letting others remake her in the image THEY had in mind???

The industry is, let's face it, sick. When male anchors are allowed to get as old as Methuselah while woman are still expected to be perky, cute and not terribly bright, it's obvious that someone is too obsessed with image, and not concerned enough with quality. No wonder "the thing is already devalued beyond recognition", as MoDo says.

The big question now is, WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

March 29, 2006

Charles Taylor gets bundled off home

Will Pat Robertson's favorite strong-armed dictator finally face justice in Liberia? Looks like it...

A plane carrying exiled former Liberian president and war crimes suspect Charles Taylor has arrived in his home country from Nigeria.

He was put on a UN helicopter expected to be heading to Sierra Leone, where he is wanted by the war crimes tribunal for his alleged role in the civil war.

He was extradited from Nigeria after he was caught trying to escape custody - ending his exile of nearly three years.

Nigeria has denied it was negligent in the way it handled Mr Taylor.

The former leader faces 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over his alleged role in the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, where he is accused of backing rebels notorious for mutilating civilians.

The tribunal's top prosecutor Desmond de Silva told the BBC he was delighted he had been arrested.

Tribunal officials say extra troops are due to arrive in Sierra Leone to reinforce security at the UN-backed court - where a cell is waiting for him, reports the BBC's Mark Doyle in Freetown.

Mr Taylor had been in exile in Nigeria since 2003 after a deal ending Liberia's civil war.

He went missing on Monday from his southern villa after the country announced Liberia was free to detain him.

Mr Taylor was detained earlier by security forces in the town of Gamboru-Ngala, close to the Cameroon border in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Borno.

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."

Nigeria has arrested Mr Taylor's Nigerian guards and has launched an investigation.

For a quick memory refresher on the love story of Chucky and Patwa, clickerado.

I can hardly wait to hear what Hugo Chavez says about this. And you know he should have plenty to say--about not only Taylor, but Efrain Rios Montt as well.

UPDATE: Taylor has just been handed over to war-crimes court in Sierra Leone. Things are gettin' mighty interesting all of a sudden!

Bolivia says bye to the IMF

Well, this has got to be a foregone conclusion: Bolivia looks about set to kick the IMF to the curb for good.

Here are some of the damning bits:

The track record of the Fund's involvement in Bolivia over the last 20 years raises serious questions about its policy advice. As noted above, the country's income per person remains below its level of 20 years ago. The government's fiscal situation is still seriously weakened from the 1998 privatization of Bolivia's social security system, which was one of the reforms that the country implemented under the advice and promotion of the IMF/World Bank. When switching from a "pay-as-you-go" system, as the United States currently has, to a system of private accounts, there are very large transition costs. Current retirees must be paid for a period of decades, without the revenue that had previously been provided from payroll taxes, while the private accounts accumulate enough savings to pay a retirement income. The government is currently spending 4.1 percent of GDP annually on pensions, more than the entire public sector deficit. Most of this spending is the result of Social Security privatization. Thus, this one structural reform is responsible for most of the government's current budget deficit, as well as a significant amount of debt accumulation since 1998.

[...]

Moreover, in recent documents the Fund has been advocating against the May 2005 hydrocarbons law, which increased the royalty payments by foreign gas companies and provided for the renegotiation of some of their contracts. The increased revenue from these legal changes is very important to the government's fiscal balance as well as its ability to undertake projects that would reduce poverty or improve the health of the population.

[...]

Some of the IMF's goals for Bolivia such as de-dollarization of the economy, or the creation of a system of deposit insurance, are potentially beneficial. But others are not necessarily helpful: for example, the privatization of remaining banks where the state has a majority interest, increased flexibility of the exchange rate, increasing the independence of the central bank, or legal changes regarding corporate restructuring and bankruptcy. The IMF's track record in the last few years on macroeconomic policy, for example in Argentina, provides further grounds for caution in concluding any further agreements with the Fund.

(Linkage mine.)

The paper goes on rather cautiously in an analytic vein, but for me the writing's on the wall: Evo will probably take his cues from Hugo and Nestor. Bolivia is just one more Latin American country about to give the IMF the boot.

And when it does, watch out. The Bolivian economy will take off like a balloon with the string cut.

March 28, 2006

Quotable: Nietzsche on conservatism

"At this point the conservatives of all ages are thoroughly dishonest: they added lies."

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft

Kenny Boy--getting off easy?

Sure looks that way...

US prosecutors dropped a number of charges against former Enron chief executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling as they rested their case on Tuesday.

Mr Skilling now faces 28 cases of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading, while Mr Lay faces six counts of conspiracy and fraud.

The defence is due to start making its case next Monday.

Enron collapsed in December 2001 after disclosures that it falsified accounts to hide debt and inflate profits.

The prosecution dropped three charges brought against Mr Skilling and one charge brought against Mr Lay because they had not presented any evidence for them while presenting their case.

As they wound down, prosecutors disclosed that the two defendants were paid a combined salary of nearly $375m between 1999 and 2001.

Mr Lay and Mr Skilling have pleaded not guilty to all charges, blaming Enron's collapse on what they call rogue employees such as former chief executive officer Andrew Fastow.

Mr Fastow has already testified to setting up partnerships designed to help the firm hide losses of millions of dollars.

He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is facing 10 years in jail.

Meanwhile, here's the lowdown on Fastow:

The government's complaint against Enron seems to buy into this idea and the related notion that Enron was some valuable institution that "collapsed." This myth is the same one that Skilling sold. But few are eager to disavow it because it makes everyone involved, including prosecutors (and journalists), actors in a great tragedy rather than witnesses to a much pettier scheme.

The charges against Fastow are pettier still. He is blamed for making side deals for himself, Kopper and even his family members. In these deals, Fastow allegedly got even richer than he would have as Enron's CFO, even if he did have to violate the company's vaunted code of ethics in the process.

The complaint fudges the key point that the deals were made to benefit Enron. It also continually repeats the phrase that Fastow schemed "to defraud Enron and its shareholders." But while it's possible to do both, any coherent theory of the case would require the government to choose (or at least emphasize) one or the other.

If Fastow was acting on behalf of the company--and with the explicit or tacit cooperation of the board as well as Lay or Skilling--then the charges that he collected side payments on the fraudulent deals would seem almost not worth fussing about.

Fastow took the Fifth, so he didn't testify. Damn shame, really; besides himself, he might have incriminated some much bigger fish.

And now, it looks as if those sharks just might swim away.

Stanislaw Lem, R.I.P.

From the Beeb:

Polish author Stanislaw Lem, most famous for science fiction works including Solaris, has died aged 84, after suffering from heart disease.

He sold more than 27 million copies of his works, translated into about 40 languages, and a number were filmed.

His 1961 novel Solaris was made into a movie by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1971 and again by American Steven Soderbergh in 2002.

Soderbergh's version starred George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

Lem was born in 1921 in Lviv in Ukraine and studied medicine there before World War II. He moved to Krakow in 1946.

He concentrated on science fiction writing, a genre regarded by the Polish socialist government as fairly harmless in terms of censorship.

However, his first major novel, Hospital of the Transfiguration, went unpublished for eight years until the ideological thaw that followed Soviet leader Josef Stalin's death in 1956.

Other key works included The Cyberiad in 1965.

After the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, Lem turned to writing reports on future trends, including computer crime and the ethical problems of the internet.

Here's the official English website dedicated to Lem and his work.

March 27, 2006

Judge Scalia's rotten judgment

The problem with Fat Tony Scalia isn't that he's an arrogant, undignified prick unworthy of his seat; it's where to start enumerating the proof. Take, for example, his most recent episode of injudicious behavior:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia startled reporters in Boston just minutes after attending a mass, by flipping a middle finger to his critics.

A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia replied, making the obscene gesture and explaining "That's Sicilian."

The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper.

"Don't publish that," Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said.

He was attending a special mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and afterward was the keynote speaker at the Catholic Lawyers' Guild luncheon.

(Added link is mine.)

Unmitigated arrogance beyond a reasonable doubt? Wait, it gets better. Here's Exhibit B:

A US Supreme Court justice has been quoted as saying that Guantanamo detainees do not have the right to be tried in civil courts.

Newsweek magazine said it had heard a tape of a recent talk given by Antonin Scalia in which he made these comments.

The report comes as the court prepares to hear a challenge by a Guantanamo detainee against US military tribunals.

The case is considered an important test of the Bush administration's handling of its war on terror.

Lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan - Osama Bin Laden's former driver - will argue that President George W Bush does not have the constitutional right to order these military trials.

The US government has urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case.

In a speech to Swiss law students at the University of Freiburg on 8 March, Justice Scalia dismissed the idea that detainees had rights under the US constitution or international conventions, Newsweek reported.

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he is quoted as saying.

"Give me a break."

Asked whether Guantanamo detainees have any rights under international conventions, Justice Scalia reportedly answered:

"If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs.

"I had a son (Matthew Scalia) on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."

Mr Scalia is also quoted as saying he was "astounded" at the "hypocritical" reaction in Europe to Guantanamo.

Legal experts quoted by Newsweek said Mr Scalia's comments could compromise his position in the Hamdan case, even though he did not refer directly to it.

Hold it just a minute there, sparky. Europeans are "hypocritical"? About GITMO? Since when? Europeans have always been consistently opposed to Gitmo, so there's no way that makes sense. Could he be alluding to the CIA's torture flights that passed through European airspace? If so, that's not Europe's hypocrisy on display there; it's the US's, for referring to outsourced torture as "extraordinary rendition". And Europeans have every right to be shocked and taken aback at the use of their airports as stopovers on the way to scungy places where people get disappeared or dead. Considering how deeply most of Europe opposed the war in Iraq, it's hardly surprising that there would be outrage over these many blatant violations of international law.

And then, of course, there's the question of just how close Judge Scalia is to Dick Cheney. Apparently close enough for the two to go duck hunting together. Conflict of interest? Quack, quack.

Creepiest of all is Scalia's affiliation with Opus Dei. This ultra-conservative sect within Catholicism favors a downright medieval daily routine of corporal mortification. No wonder he's so blithe about torture. To him, though, it's probably just discipline.

What a pity he can't take a more self-disciplined (and less torturous) approach to his job. At this rate, "Your Honor" is in danger of becoming an irrevocably tainted mode of address.

Hey Stephen, here's your big chance...

...to put your money where your mouth is:

An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity is seeking asylum in another country, the United Nations says.

Mr Rahman, a Christian for 16 years, was charged with rejecting Islam but his case was dismissed because of gaps in evidence, Afghan officials said.

A UN spokesman said he expected asylum would be granted by a country "interested in a peaceful solution".

[...]

The US, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy and Sweden were among those demanding Afghanistan respect international laws on freedom of religion and human rights.

It stands to reason that he should be given asylum in one of those countries. I say let it be my home and native land--O Canada. After all, we have full religious freedom here; we have peace; we have order; and, if Stephen Harper is willing to soften his stance on immigrants, we might even have good government--not exactly a Tory specialty!

But most importantly, Abdul Rahman wouldn't face a religiously motivated lynching here. We have laws against that sort of thing.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Downing Street Memo!

And the Beeb has finally confirmed it:

From private talks between George Bush and UK PM Tony Blair, the memo makes it clear the US was determined to go to war whether or not he had UN backing.

He is quoted discussing ways to provoke Saddam Hussein into a confrontation.

[...]

The five-page memo, dated 31 January 2003, was written by Mr Blair's then chief foreign adviser, David Manning, the New York Times says.

Summarising the two-hour White House meeting, the memo says: "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning."

Mr Bush is paraphrased as saying: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin."

Although the US and UK pushed for a second UN resolution on Iraq, the memo cites Mr Bush saying he did not believe one was needed.

"The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," Mr Bush is paraphrased as saying.

"But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."

Mr Blair is described as responding that both countries must make clear the second resolution was "Saddam's final opportunity".

According to the note, he also told Mr Bush: "If anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would give us international cover, especially with the Arabs."

The UK government has always insisted military action was used as a last resort against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Downing Street has stressed Mr Blair only committed UK forces to Iraq after securing the approval of the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.

The memo indicates both leaders acknowledged it was possible no unconventional weapons would be found in Iraq before the invasion, the New York Times says.

The note cites Mr Bush suggesting three ways in which Iraq could be provoked into confrontation.

The US "was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours", Mr Bush said.

If Saddam fired on them, the Iraqis would be in breach of UN resolutions, he suggested.

He also indicated the US "might be able to bring out a defector" to talk about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and mentioned a proposal to assassinate the Iraqi leader.

Mr Bush describes US military strategy in some detail, including a concentrated air campaign.

He predicted it "was unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups" - an opinion with which Mr Blair agreed.

Excerpts from the memo were first quoted by UK human rights lawyer Philippe Sands in his book Lawless World.

(Added links mine.)

Does anyone need further proof that Gulf War II was a massive "Wag the Dog" operation--minus the sex, but with plenty of sexed-up misinformation?

Quotable: Americablog on the Ben Domenech kerfuffle

"This entire Washington Post blogger experience, it's like watching a puppy walk into the Coliseum. You're horrified by what you're about to see, but at the same time, you really want to get some popcorn."

--John in DC

March 26, 2006

How the Christian Peacemakers were freed

The Beeb has the details...

Briton Norman Kember and his Canadian colleagues James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were freed after a multinational military raid acting on information provided by a detainee, the US military says.

The rescue was completed without any shots being fired and with no kidnappers present, suggesting the operation was carefully planned and carried out.

Although rescue experts began work as soon as the three men were captured, the operation sped up in the last few weeks, BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera said.

A split occurred between the hostage takers motivated by politics and ideology versus those motivated by money.

When a money-motivated captor was himself captured by US security forces in Iraq on Wednesday night, rescuers were able to find the Baghdad location where the men were held.

"We moved to the location in western Baghdad that was reported for the location of the Christian Peacemaker Team," said Maj Gen Rick Lynch.

"We conducted an assault on the house and inside the house we found the three hostages, in good condition.

"There were no kidnappers there at the time. The three hostages were by themselves."

The hostages were bound, he said.

Hostage James Loney reportedly confirmed that one person had led the forces to where they were held.

In a telephone conversation with a friend, Mr Loney is said to have described the kidnappers as a criminal gang.

And, according to the Toronto Star, he told his brother of the moment he, Mr Sooden and Mr Kember were freed: "The door came crashing in and gentlemen with British accents basically unshackled him (Norman Kember) and escorted him out."

Gen Lynch described the men thought to be responsible as "a kidnapping cell that has been robust over the last several months in conducting these kind of kidnappings".

And on a related note, here's a bit more on the Christian Peacemakers themselves:

CPT, which was founded in 1988, has previously operated in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. It is still active in Colombia.

Full-time CPT members serve a three-year term and are supported by a larger reserve team who work for about eight weeks a year. A team consists of four to six people at any given time.

Members belong to various Christian denominations, but, while they say they are Christian, they emphasise that they are not missionaries.

The group describes its work as "truth telling", recounting the stories of ordinary individuals in areas of conflict.

Many of these stories are relayed to a wider audience in the members' home countries via e-mail, newsletters and public appearances. CPT is also active in lobbying government officials.

In Iraq, the group's work has focused on the issue of Iraqi detainees held by US forces. This has involved taking testimonies from families of detainees and former detainees alleging human rights abuses.

"We were the first to publicly denounce the torture of the Iraqi people held by occupation forces," CPT co-director Doug Pritchard told the BBC. He said this was months before the Western media reported on abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

None of the CPT members have witnessed the alleged abuse at first hand or have been inside the military prisons.

In an interview with the BBC News website in December 2004, Peggy Gish, a CPT member, described how she spent 13 months on the ground listening to stories of Iraqi men and women who claim they had been wrongfully imprisoned, tortured and beaten by the occupying forces.

"We heard about very violent house raids in the middle of the night, in which US soldiers would storm in, and if the men did not get down immediately, they would knock them down and beat them," Ms Gish said.

After collating the claims, CPT posted them on US and Canadian websites and urged people to lobby government officials.

CPT members also aim to find out what everyday life is like for ordinary Iraqis. Before his departure to Iraq, Briton Norman Kember - who is being held by a previously unknown militant group, The Swords of Truth - told a Christian radio station that he was hoping to meet ordinary Iraqis of various backgrounds and hear their stories.

According to Mr Pritchard, the team that has been kidnapped in Iraq had recently been meeting authorities responsible for electrical power plants and oil refineries, to find out what difficulties Iraqis face and the reasons for them.

He said they had also met other human rights organisations in the country.

Responding to a question about operating in dangerous situations such as war zones, Mr Pritchard said: "That's exactly where we work and it comes out of our own faith calling that soldiers take these risks every day and we respect the risks they take.

"We are convinced they are on the wrong track as soldiers, so we are challenging ourselves and asking: 'Do we not have as much faith and as much courage as soldiers have and are we willing to put our own lives on the line'?"

On its website, the organisation says volunteers are aware of the risks and that "CPT does not advocate the use of violent force to save lives of its workers" even if they are kidnapped or held hostage.

I've commented on this already, but I believe it bears repeating: These are not dabblers or naifs, they are committed, informed individuals who have taken it on themselves to ensure that the rest of us are also informed about what really goes on in war zones like Iraq. They serve, in other words, a vital function that the "embedded" major media cannot and will not. Considering that this human-rights group was active in reporting on Abu Ghraib before the mainstream media broke the story--and were probably asking some very sensitive questions on why the vital infrastructure of Iraq has still not been rebuilt since "Mission Accomplished", it begs some questions that no one else seems to be asking: Why were they kidnapped--really? And why was only the US member of the team killed?

I don't expect any answers to these soon, but I thought I'd put them out there for you to ponder. I suspect there are more than a few powerful interests out there that don't want you pondering them.

Congratulations, Riverbend!

This is wonderful news!

An anonymous blog by a young woman in war-torn Iraq has been longlisted for BBC Four's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

Baghdad Burning, a first-hand account written under the pseudonym Riverbend, is one of 19 books in contention.

[...]

The winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced on 14 June.

I'll be watching this, for sure.

BTW, additional information on Baghdad Burning, the book, can be found here.

And if you're not reading the blog yet--what's holding you back?

Sean Hannity can shut the fuck up now

The weeniest of all the wingnuts (with the possible exception of Tucker Carlson, about whom more later) can now stop asking his annoying "gotcha" question: Is the world better off with or without Saddam? Because at last there is a definitive answer, and it's in the negative. And you'll never guess where it comes from...

Tahseen lives in a Baghdad apartment with his two brothers.

"Right now, I have five gay men hiding in my room in fear of their lives, because they cannot go outside without risking being killed," he said, with anguish audible in his voice. "They are all listening to me as I speak with you."

All those hiding with Tahseen are in their late 20s or early 30s, and by their mannerisms would be easily identified as gay by most Iraqis. I spoke briefly with one of them, who expressed his fear in a soft, shy voice. One of those being given refuge by Tahseen is Bashar, a 34-year-old stage actor, who was forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats against him and his family. Before he went underground, his house was raided several times by the Badr Corps. Fortunately, he was not at home, otherwise he fears he would have been kidnapped and killed.

"We desperately need protection!" pleaded Tahseen. "But, when we go to the Americans, they laugh at us and don't do anything. The Americans are the problem!"

"These assaults and murders have been reported to the Green Zone, but the Americans don't want to upset the religious authorities, and so they do nothing or treat gay Iraqis with contempt or as an object of humor," Hili explained, adding that the reports to U.S. authorities were made by underground gay activists.

The U.S. has long sought to court Ayatollah Sistani, and gave its approval for SCIRI's participation in the current coalition government. SCIRI has since brokered the current plan for talks between the U.S. and Iran over Iranian interference in Iraq, a plan much in the headlines last week.

Hili, who has a bachelor's degree in English literature, and who used to work for Iraqi radio and television, fled to the U.K. in 2002 after having been persecuted for being gay under Saddam Hussein.

He has been receiving telephoned threats of beatings or death from supporters of SCIRI and Sistani living in England since he became publically identified with the cause of Iraqi gays and as a gay man himself.

"I had two menacing calls just last night," he said.

"In the late '80s and early '90s there were a couple of gay clubs in Baghdad," Hili explained, "but they were all shut down in 1993 after sanctions were imposed against Saddam's regime and Iraq. We had a weekly gay nightclub in the Palestine Hotel that became the gathering place for gay people, especially for actors and others in the entertainment world, but it, too, was shut down. I was arrested three times for being gay, and tortured. After several attempts, I finally was able to escape the country, going first to Dubai, then Jordan, then Syria, and finally reaching England."

Now, Hili says, he is heartbroken to see that, three years after Saddam's fall, life for gay people in Iraq is even more unbearable than before.

"Just last night I spoke via Internet with a young gay man in his mid-20s who was caught by SCIRI agents. He had no identification with him—gay people are afraid to carry their IDs when they go in the street in case they are caught," because both the police and the Badr Corps agents would inform their families and add them to a list of known homosexuals, which would be used later to target them for killing.

"This young man had his left arm broken by the SCIRI thugs—I saw this with my own eyes via Internet camera," Hili said.

The Abu Nawas Group, according to Hili, is accumulating evidence that Iranian agents are advising SCIRI and the Iranian police on how to implement anti-gay persecution. Not only has Iran's Internet entrapment campaign targeting gays been adopted in Iraq, he said, but there are reports that Iranian agents have been involved in interrogations, questioning those arrested in Persian through translators.

"This is particularly true in Basra in the south," Hili said.

Hili provided information on the cases of several gay victims of the Badr Corps, but noted, "These killings are just the ones we have been able to get details about. They are the tip of an iceberg of religious-motivated executions. Gay Iraqis are living in fear of discovery and murder."

Hili provided details on several of those killed in Iraq. Ammar, a young gay man of 27, was abducted and shot in back of the head in Baghdad by suspected Badr militias in January 2006. Haydar Faiek, aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi, was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias in the main street in the Al-Karada district of Baghdad in September 2005. Naffeh, aged 45, disappeared in August 2005. His family was informed that he was kidnapped by the Badr organization. His body was found in January 2006. He, too, had been subjected to an execution-style killing.

Sarmad and Khalid were partners who lived in the Al-Jameha area of Baghdad. Persons unknown revealed their same-sex relationship. They were abducted by the Badr organization in April 2005. Their bodies were found two months later, in June, bound, blindfolded, and shot in the back of the head.

The al-Arabiya TV network reported this weekend that a backroom deal had been reached to nominate Abdel Mahdi, a leading SCIRI figure and currently Iraq's vice president, to be the new Iraqi prime minister—the accord is said to have been reached by representatives of SCIRI, the Kurdish List, and the Sunni Iraqi Concord Front. There is great fear that the Badr Corps-SCIRI campaign against gay people will become official Iraqi policy, especially if the report that a top SCIRI politician may become the new prime minister turns out to be true. Under the Iraqi Constitution—virtually written by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his associates—Sharia law, which mandates death for homosexuals, is the foundation of all Iraqi law.

Reuters reported last August 20, under the headline, "U.S. Concedes Ground to Islamists on Iraqi Law," that the U.S. brokered a deal on the Constitution "making Islam 'the,' not 'a,' main source of law—changing current wording—and subjecting all legislation to a religious test." Reuters quoted a leading Kurdish politician as saying at that time, "We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites. It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."

(Be sure to read the whole article; that's just a snip. Added emphasis mine.)

So we can see now that one part of the world is definitely NOT better off without Saddam. There never used to be inter-ethnic or inter-religious strife in Iraq before. Now there is. And Iraqi gays, who led marginalized lives before, are in fear for their lives now.

But then again, I guess that in the wingnut world, queers just don't count. And neither does the uncomfortable little fact that the Bushnik propagandists have, by supporting the invasion and denying that there is now a civil war, helped to create an Islamist monster that's likely to spring more, not less, terrorism on America someday.

Talk about a waste of purple ink. Please. Sean Hannity won't!

March 25, 2006

Why the Christian Peacemakers were right to go to Iraq

First, I'll give the floor to British peace activist Bruce Kent, who had the following to say on the Beeb about his fellow activist, Norman Kember, who was recently freed after over 100 days as a hostage:

...I still believe Norman was right to go to Iraq - and I don't think that he will regret having gone. And here's why.

Norman totally, bitterly, opposed the invasion of Iraq and all that was done there. He could see there were a lot of people in Iraq who were hurting and suffering, who had lost relations or been imprisoned. Whatever their nationality, our job as Christians and as people interested in peace was to offer help and consolation to people who were suffering. That was Norman's basic wish.

He also wanted to show a kind of British solidarity - to demonstrate that we were not a country which was united in favour of what had been done. It was a common Christian humanity that inspired Norman; that these were people who were suffering. He wanted to go and help.

This is not, of course, an exclusively Christian prerogative. We do not have a monopoly on compassion - in fact I think it's everyone's duty to help those who in need. But we as Christians are commanded to be concerned about the suffering and imprisonment of others - it's an explicit mandate to us.

I know people will say Norman shouldn't have put himself in danger in the first place. There is, however, a comparison they don't make. They don't ask if it's right for instance, for a young soldier to go to Iraq to do his duty. We send out government people and contractors and God knows who else as well as soldiers, and they all take major risks, some of them for commercial reasons and some for political or other purposes.

Some go because they think armies are the best way to keep peace - I'm not judging their motives. But why shouldn't people who have a different approach towards justice and peace also take risks?

That's exactly Norman's position. Over the years, he and I have met dozens of times on one peace campaign or activity or another, whether it's about the arms trade or nuclear weapons. But he felt - and it came through in many of his writings - that it was in a sense a bit easy to write letters and hold placards and go on demonstrations and write to your MP. He felt a call, a kind of vocation, to do something a bit more direct. And that's what led him to go out there.

Even when it looked very dark, I don't think he would have regretted going for one minute. As a human, of course, he would have been absolutely scared. The awful thought of one of his friends being taken out and shot, which he and his fellow hostages must have known about, would have meant an enormous amount of anguish.

He would also have been very deeply upset knowing what his wife would have been through. But I don't think he would ever have regretted going.

He might now ask himself if anything positive has come out of the whole ordeal. It has. There's a great deal of awareness now of what's going on in Iraq - not just because of him, but he's certainly contributed to it. What's specific to Norman's case is a new understanding between Muslims here in this country and the peace and human rights campaign here.

We might have been separate in the past, but the Muslim community has been so helpful and so co-operative here, it needs as many thanks as anyone else. Of course I would like to thank the Foreign Office and, if it was the military that helped free him, then them too. But the Muslim community has really behaved in a wonderful way.

Messages came from all over the world - from all sorts of organisations and people. Most remarkable, perhaps, was that we had a message from an alleged terrorist in a high security prison, and even from a proscribed organisation in Egypt. It was all very heartening and very helpful.

(My own emphasis added to those passages which I believe speak most strongly for themselves.)

And now, to dissect some of the comments from the detractors. Here's one from a guy in Edinburgh:

Norman Kember was not right to go. Nor did he have a "right" to go. I am anti the war in Iraq, totally, but Mr Kember went to a war zone and in doing so, not only de facto endangered himself, but also the lives of those seeking to gain his freedom. Showing solidarity is one thing; interfering in a theatre of war is tantamount to sabotage in something that is already an obscene mess.

It begs the question here: what is meant by "tantamount to sabotage"? If the war is already "an obscene mess", then a "sabotage" like Norman Kember's act (and those of his fellow activists) is not a further complication of the Gordian knot, but a move to cut it. In other words, it is the right thing to do, no matter how "wrong" it may seem at the time. If "interference" is what it takes to get people off their duffs to stop the war, then so be it!

And here's another, from a guy in Ottawa:

Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome the wonderful news of Mr Kember's release, I feel very strongly that individuals who decide to go to such dangerous places, do so entirely at their own risk. It often appears that both the hostages, their families and their supporters expect their national governments to move heaven and earth to secure their release. A release that would not have been necessary if the individual had not ignored common sense advice not go there in the first place. The risk to other people, most notably the hard working men and women of the Armed Forces and Security Services, is just not worth it in the long run.

Yes, the family and supporters of Mr. Kember DID expect the government(s) to "move heaven and earth" to secure his release, but that is not all they expected and it is certainly not all that they still expect. They still expect that the government(s) will decide that sending soldiers to risk being killed (and not just in the act of freeing hostages like Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney, but in killing Iraqis--or anyone else) is not worth it anymore. This isn't just about the peacemakers; it's about ALL the lives being lost in Iraq, and indeed to war, period.

And it is absolute bosh to say Norman Kember "ignored common sense". People, Norman Kember is in his 70s. He's old enough to be well aware of the risks, particularly the extra ones that can befall an elderly man. But he's been a pacifist for over 50 years, and in that time, he's seen enough of the easy way, as Bruce Kent points out, to be thoroughly tired of the less-drastic and less-effectual approach! Trust me--he knew exactly what he was doing. That may not be "common sense", but sometimes, uncommon sense is better. For only a person of uncommon sense would have the wit to do something so powerful to mobilize forces on not one but several continents against this wasteful, sinful war.

Someone from Switzerland writes:

When you take a decision to leave the safe and controlled areas of the world you take the responsibility for your own safety. I'm glad Norman Kember was recovered, but he bears a responsibility for the efforts that went into recovering him. I ski and believe that you have a right to go beyond the safely marked areas, however when you pass beyond the signs you take that responsibility yourself, if a rescue team needs to be sent out you bear the responsibility for that.

Uh, dude...this wasn't a ski trip. Kember wasn't in this for a lark. He knew his life was at risk, but he felt it was worth it if he could personally help someone over there, instead of just making out a cheque to an aid organization. Maybe you should educate yourself as to what he was actually doing in Iraq.

And a lad from Leicester writes:

Bruce Kent says Mr Kember will still believe he was right to go. Surely the important question is whether those brave soldiers who risked their lives rescuing him think he was right to go.

Well, if it comes down to that, don't ask it of Norman Kember or anyone reading this. Ask it of the soldiers themselves. But here, for what it's worth, is my take: If what Mr. Kember did spurs even one soldier to think twice and conscientiously object to being sent into battle, it was right. And if I were a soldier myself, I'd prefer to be a rescuer of peaceniks (misguided or not), rather than a killer of innocents.

And from Newcastle (UK), comes this bit of nonsense:

Could someone elaborate on just what the difference Mr. Kember thought he was going to make? Its a nice idea, but rather egotistical. Putting oneself at risk, and others, and worrying family and friends... to achieve what? No, I'm convinced that one did not say it was for religious reasons doing what he did would get one sectioned under the mental health act. I mean what sort of state mental has he got himself, and his close ones, into. It's just shoddy thinking on his part.

This is just shoddy thinking itself, on so many levels. What is mentally unhealthy about believing in peace, and laying down one's own life to help others? "Greater love hath no man than this...", remember?

And if Norman Kember were truly just an egotist, as this detractor seems to think he is, he'd have stayed home and found some less risky means to self-promotion. As I understand it, egotists want to live to enjoy their fame and notoriety--unless they really are mentally ill, like Sylvia Plath, whose poetry didn't reach its full stature in the eyes of readers until after she'd stuck her head in an oven and turned on the gas. But that was tragic and a waste of a fine, productive life. What Norman Kember did was the opposite: he tried to save others' lives, not just immolate his own. No tragedy there, but a definite triumph for which his ego will receive the very least of the gratification.

And now, a semiliterate followed by a halfwit:

i have no sympathy for people who go to war zones, get them selfs kidnapped then risk our armed forces lives to get them out when their job is hard enough already, perhaps this will teach him and others like him not to meddle in foreign affairs

* * *

I'd glad Norman Kember is alive and free. He is an unfortunate misguided man, who put his own life and those of others in great danger. He should not meddle in things he quite obviously does not understand.

Tell ya what, you two: if you understand things so much better, then go enlist in the army yourselves. Show the rest of us how things ought to be done, if you think you know it. Better still, just go and be harshly disabused of your callow and facile misconceptions. But don't you DARE tell us that Norman Kember did not understand what he was about.

And here's a piece of throw-away arrogance from a Londoner:

Rescued at great expense to the tax payers of three countries, By the very forces that he protests against. Speak out by all means. But don't go to war zones if you are not experienced.

And you, sir: Are YOU "experienced"? No? Then shut the fuck up. Norman Kember was not protesting against the FORCES, he was protesting against the WAR which is still KILLING THE FORCES. A vital and not terribly subtle distinction you don't bother to make, perhaps lacking experience in the simple act of using your own damn head.

BTW, you should see what the WAR is costing the taxpayers. Norman Kember's rescue is tiddlywinks compared to that.

And finally, from someone in Leeds:

Predictably, not one mention of the troops who freed Mr Kember. Apparently Mr Kent is more pleased with the 'helpful' support of a terrorist than with the men who freed his friend. I guess you won't publish this though.

Uh, dude...maybe there's a good reason the troops who freed him weren't "mentioned", whatever a "mention" entails in your eyes. As I understand it, they were not just ANY troops, they were elite commandos. To reveal their identities at this stage would be to compromise their safety in any subsequent rescue missions they may have to undertake. (Surely all those who slammed Mr. Kember for putting their lives at risk must appreciate that--and if you don't, kindly extract head from rectum now. Their lives have been at risk for as long as they've been in the military--or at the very least, as long as they've been on this secret task force. This is their job, people!)

Plus, there's the salient fact that the peacemakers didn't want violence and conflict used to rescue them. It's a good thing that the forces who rescued them were able to honor that request. Let that not get lost in the shuffle.

And of course, by this time, Norman Kember HAS publicly given thanks, so I daresay your complaint was a little...um...premature.

As for the terrorist prisoner who spoke out--well, if even HE could be moved to show support for an "infidel" like Mr. Kember, then there's hope. Yes, even for him. And for the Muslim Brotherhood, too. It may not excuse or make up for whatever else they've done, but it is definitely a testament to the power of Mr. Kember's act to win the hearts and minds of the others over there--and don't for one second believe that doesn't count. If it stops even ONE angry Muslim from taking up terrorism against the West, it's a victory.

Finally, to all you war-cheerleaders out there reading this: Be thankful for the Norman Kembers of this world. They are doing their damnedest to make a difference over there so that neither you, nor your descendants, will ever know the terror of war at home. I may not think your sorry, self-absorbed lives are worth it, but they apparently do...and for that, I bless them.

You should, too.

Boycott this 'toon, it looks strangely familiar

A strangely familiar 'toon lives here

"We have met the enemy and they is us!"

March 24, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Leftist hottitude, then and now

Hugo or Che? Decisions, decisions...

Che's brooding gaze may be great eye candy, but there's something to be said for Hugo's unabashed oratory.

March 23, 2006

More hopeful news from Argentina

More proof that things in Argentina are changing for the better, especially on the human-rights front:

Argentina has decided to make public all secret archives of the armed forces to help uncover human rights violations committed under military rule.

The decision was announced by Defence Minister Nilda Garre.

It comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the coup, by which the military seized power in 1976.

Human rights groups say up to 30,000 political opponents of the regime were kidnapped, detained and later executed during seven years of military rule.

The government issued a decree to guarantee unrestricted access to information on what it said were grave acts committed during the so-called Dirty War.

It ordered all the branches of the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence to provide access their secret files when required.

Recovered documents will be kept at the National Memory Archive, an institution created by President Nestor Kirchner three years ago.

Correspondents say the secret files could play a key role in trials against former military officers accused of human rights abuses, after the Argentine Congress voted to scrap laws protecting them from prosecution in 2003.

Some high-ranking officers such as Gen Rafael Videla - who seized power in 1976 - are under house arrest over the illegal adoption of children born to political prisoners during military rule.

On Friday, President Kirchner is expected to lead an official ceremony to mark the anniversary of the coup.

Not exactly a Festive Left Friday Blogging issue per se, but it's something I'll be watching and cheering for tomorrow!

Um, Condi...do you know what you're holding?

It's called a charango. Guess what the green bits are!

It's called a charango, and you'll never guess what the one you've got your hands on is made from!

Condoleezza Rice knew coca would top the agenda in her meeting with Bolivia's new president, but she likely wasn't expecting to get the real thing.

At the end of their 25-minute meeting, President Evo Morales presented the U.S. secretary of state with an Andean guitar that bore a coca-leaf inlay.

"The gift was well received. We will just have to check with our customs to see what rules apply. We certainly hope we can bring it back (to Washington)," said a senior State Department official who attended the meeting.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, came to prominence as a leader of coca farmers who want more freedom to grow coca, which is the main ingredient in cocaine but is also used legally for traditional medicines and in teas.

And here are some facts on the traditional uses of coca...

In the Andes, the indigenous peoples have been chewing the leaves of the coca plant for millennia. They traditionally carried a woven pouch called a chuspa or huallqui in which they kept a day's supply of coca leaves, along with a small amount of ilucta or uipta, which is made from pulverized unslaked lime or from the ashes of the quinoa plant. A tiny quantity of ilucta is chewed together with the coca leaves; it softens their astringent flavor and activates the alkaloids. Other names for this basifying substance are llipta in Peru and the Spanish word lejía, lye in English. Many of these materials are salty in flavor, but there are variations. The most common base in the La Paz area of Bolivia is a product known as lejía dulce (sweet lye) which is made from quinoa ashes mixed with anise and cane sugar, forming a soft black putty with a sweet and pleasing licorice flavor. In some places, baking soda is used under the name bico.

The practice of chewing coca was most likely originally a simple matter of survival. The coca leaf contained many essential nutrients in addition to its more well-known mood-altering alkaloid. It is rich in protein and vitamins, and it grows in regions where other food sources are scarce. The perceived boost in energy and strength provided by the cocaine in coca leaves was also very functional in an area where oxygen is scarce and extensive walking is essential. The coca plant was so central to the worldview of the Yunga and Aymara tribes of South America that distance was often measured in units called "cocada", which signified the number of mouthfuls of coca that one would chew while walking from one point to another. Cocada can also be used as a measurement of time, meaning the amount of time it takes for a mouthful of coca to lose its flavor and activity. In testament of the significance of coca to indigenous cultures, it is widely believed that the word "coca" most likely originally simply meant "plant," in other words, coca was not just a plant but the plant.

Coca was also a vital part of the religious cosmology of the Andean tribes in the pre-Inca period as well as throughout the Inca Empire (Tahuantinsuyu). Coca was historically employed as an offering to the Sun, or to produce smoke at the great sacrifices; and the priests, it was believed, must chew it during the performance of religious ceremonies, otherwise the gods would not be propitiated. Coca is still held in veneration among the indigenous and mestizo peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and northern Argentina and Chile. It is believed by the miners of Cerro de Pasco to soften the veins of ore, if masticated (chewed) and thrown upon them (see also Cocomama). Coca leaves play a crucial part in offerings to the apus (mountains), Inti (the sun), or Pachamama (the earth). Coca leaves are often read in a form of divination analogous to reading tea leaves in other cultures.

In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, coca is consumed by the Kogi, Arhuaco & Wiwa by using a special gadget called poporo. The poporo is the mark of manhood, but it is a female's sexual symbol. It represents the womb and the stick is a phallic symbol. The movements of the stick in the poporo symbolize the sexual act. For a man the poporo is a good companion which means "food" "woman", "memory" and "meditation". Women are prohibited from using coca. It is important to stress that poporo is the symbol of manhood. But it is the woman who gives men their manhood. When the boy is ready to be married, his mother will initiate him in the use of the coca. This act of initiation is carefully supervised by the mama, a traditional leader.

The activity of chewing coca is called mambear, chacchar or acullicar, borrowed from Quechua, or in Bolivia, picchar, derived from the Aymara language. The Spanish masticar is also frequently used. Doing so usually causes users to feel a tingling and numbing sensation in their mouths, similar to receiving Novocaine during a dental procedure. Even today, chewing coca leaves is a common sight in indigenous communities across the central Andean region, particularly in places like the mountains of Bolivia, where the cultivation and consumption of coca is as much a part of the national culture similar to chicha, like wine is to France or beer is to Germany. It also serves as a powerful symbol of indigenous cultural and religious identity, amongst a diversity of indigenous nations throughout South America. Bags of coca leaves are sold in local markets and by street vendors. Commercially manufactured coca teas are also available in most stores and supermarkets, including upscale suburban supermarkets.

Coca herbal tea (Spanish: Mate de coca) is a tisane made from the leaves of the Coca plant (Eritroxilécea). The consumption of coca tea is a common occurrence in many South American countries. Coca tea is also used for medicinal and religious purposes by many indigenous tribes in the Andes. On the "Inca Trail" to Macchu Picchu, guides also serve coca tea with every meal because it is widely believed that it alleviates the symptoms of mild altitude sickness. And traditionally, official governmental persons travelling to La Paz in Bolivia are greeted by a mate de coca.

Chances are, if you've had a novocaine shot at your dentist's, had lidocaine injected during surgery (or used a topical antiseptic/painkiller containing it), or taken a drink of Coca-Cola, you've actually consumed coca and not even been aware of it. (Yes, Coke does contain an extract of coca, but don't get too excited--it's a non-drug flavoring agent. Coke stopped containing actual coke in the early 20th century. The kick in the can these days is actually just sugar and caffeine.) Bolivians are quick to point out that there are many other uses for the plant, as well...

As you can see, the white stuff Dubya spent so much of his youth vacuuming out of socialites' carpets is really the least of its uses.

Kind of makes a mockery of the cynical, hypocritical drug war, doesn't it?

Up with uppity women in South Dakota!

You may want to write to these ladies and express your support.

Better still, if you can, shoot 'em a cheque.

Don't shut up, just sing it, sisters!

The Dixie Chicks' latest song is one beeYOOteeful bitch-slap to the Right. Check it out.

Argentina de-privatizes its water

Remember when Argentina was the IMF's poster child for privatizing everything, including the kitchen sink?

Remember when Argentina's finances abruptly went down the toilet as a result of that?

Well, take a look at Argentina now, baby!

Argentina has terminated its contract with Aguas Argentinas, a company partly owned by French utility group Suez, to supply drinking water to Buenos Aires.

The government said Aguas had failed to meet its contractual obligations and had reneged on its pledge to improve the quality of the water it supplied.

A new group called Aysa, which is 90% owned by the state and 10% by workers, will take over the contract.

The long-running saga has soured relations between France and Argentina.

Suez, which owns 40% of Aguas, announced last year it wanted to pull out of Argentina for financial reasons.

It had called for a 60% price rise to pay for infrastructure improvements, but the government offered just 16%.

Prices were frozen under an emergency law in 2002 after Argentina was plunged into economic crisis.

Aguas Argentinas' troubles began during the economic turmoil of 2001-2002, when the government was forced to abandon its policy of holding the Argentine peso at parity with the US dollar.

The utility's charges were forcibly converted from dollars into devalued pesos and frozen by law.

Since then, the company has maintained a tense relationship with the Argentine government.

In 2004, it was fined for cutting the supply of water during a recent heat wave and allegedly failing to keep up investment to meet the demand for water.

The row over Aguas Argentinas is not the only setback that Suez has faced in Latin America.

Suez lost a water concession in Bolivia two years ago, after mass protests against high water charges in the city of El Alto forced the government to cancel the contract.

Funny they should mention Bolivia. I seem to recall something similar happening in Cochabamba, where people power backed down none other than the seemingly invincible Bechtel.

Just goes to show you: There IS an alternative. Archcapitalism, look in the mirror and kiss your ugly reflection goodbye. Argentina and Bolivia, like Venezuela, won't be missing you!

March 22, 2006

Another 9-11 first responder has died

And if you guess correctly what she died of, you win a hunk of asbestos-ridden rubble from Ground Zero:

A 41-year-old paramedic who worked at a morgue for months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center was buried Monday after dying of an asbestos-related cancer.

Deborah Reeve, a 17-year paramedic, died on March 15 of mesothelioma, a lung cancer associated with exposure to asbestos, her family said. Reeve developed a cough in late 2003 and retired at the end of 2004 after becoming too ill to work.

Her doctors and family say her cancer was caused by exposure to toxic dust from the World Trade Center site. City health officials say it's too early to definitively link trade center exposure to respiratory illnesses.

A pending lawsuit alleges more than 20 deaths have been linked to ground zero exposure.

Reeve is survived by her husband, also a paramedic, a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.

And if he dies of 9-11 related illness too, then what will happen to those kids?

I can hear the trolls now: Oh, 'Bina...stop being so damn morbid. After all, the EPA said it was safe to breathe...

Try telling that to these people, though. I don't think any of them feel safe.

The truth about cats and dogs

Cats are Democrats!

Any questions?

March 21, 2006

Yes, I know it's a little late for Yule...

But everybody! Please! SING!!!

I want a hypocriticus for Fitzmas,

Only a hypocriticus will do.

No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses--

I only want hypocriticusses!

And hypocriticusses want me too!

Here come da petro-euro...

Could this be revenge for the falling-through of the Dubai Ports World deal...or just historically inevitable, based on a rather lengthy track record of Miserable Failure?

A number of Middle Eastern central banks said on Tuesday they would seek to switch reserves from the US greenback to euros.

The United Arab Emirates said it was considering moving one-tenth of its dollar reserves to the euro, while the governor of the Saudi Arabian central bank condemned the decision by the United States to force Dubai Ports World to transfer its ownership to a 'US entity,' the UK Independent reported.

"Is it protectionism or discrimination? Is it okay for US companies to buy everywhere but it is not okay for other companies to buy the US?" said Hamad Saud Al Sayyari, the governor of the Saudi Arabian monetary authority.

The head of the United Arab Emirates central bank, Sultan Nasser Al Suweidi, said the bank was considering converting 10 per cent of its reserves from dollars to euros.

"They are contravening their own principles," said Al Suweidi. "Investors are going to take this into consideration (and) will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."

The Commercial Bank of Syria has already switched the state's foreign currency transactions from dollars to euros, Duraid Durgham head of the state-owned bank said. The decision by the bank of Syria follows the announcement by the White House calling on all US financial institutions to end correspondent accounts with Syria due to money-laundering concerns.

Syria's Finance Minister Mohammad Al Hussein said: "Syria affirms that this decision and its timing are fundamentally political."

Whatever the case may be, the petro-euro now looks to be historically inevitable, too. Petro-dollar, bend over and kiss your green ass goodbye!

March 20, 2006

Dr. Quincy blogs!!!

I love you, Jack Klugman.

And I miss your show.

March 19, 2006

Spencer Tunick goes Bolivarian!

Mass nudity for art's sake--in Caracas? Por que no?

More than 1,500 Venezuelans shed their clothes on a main city avenue Sunday to pose for American photographer Spencer Tunick, forming a human mosaic in front of a national symbol: a statue of independence hero Simon Bolivar.

As Tunick shouted commands through a megaphone, nude people of every shape, size and skin tone gathered on the avenue and stairs in front of the statue just before dawn.

"There are some people over there with clothes, get them out of there!" said Tunick, an artist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who has been documenting groups of nude people in public places around the world since 1992.

For the volunteers, being part of Tunick's art meant letting go of inhibitions and enduring a two-hour series of sometimes uncomfortable positions on the pavement.

Harold Velasquez, a thin 23-year-old university student, said he was nervous before the 4:30 a.m. event -- but felt free while posing.

"I put the lightest clothes I had on this morning because I knew I wouldn't have them on for long," a smiling Velasquez said. "There were good vibrations, a good positive energy among all the people involved. I felt liberated."

The nude subjects posed standing, lying down and on their knees as the warm Caribbean sun emerged on the eastern horizon.

Occasional cheers and movements in the enthusiastic crowd made shooting tough at times, Tunick said.

"It was difficult to work because the people were so exuberant, so it took a little bit longer, but I got what I wanted," he said after the session.

"The body represents beauty, love and peace. There was a lot of beauty and energy in the people today."

Tunick took photographs from opposing angles, using buildings with large outside columns as a backdrop on one side and a fork in the wide, palm tree-lined avenue on the other.

The artist, who has been arrested multiple times while shooting in the United States, said he was happy to have darker-skinned subjects. Most Venezuelans are considered mestizo, a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous bloodlines that gives many a brown skin tone.

"I want people of color to pose and come out and participate in my work, so I was very lucky," the artist said.

Tunick said each volunteer will receive a print of the installation.

I'll admit to being rather partial to Tunick's installations; they're an interesting exploration of nude photography. For one thing, they shatter the myths that nudity is strictly a sexual thing, and that nude photography is inherently pornographic; for another, they make us take a new look at landscapes and the human form both. We see not only how variable our own bodies are (and what beauty is in the variations--a refreshing take-home message in an age of mass-media induced conformity!), but how, when a great many of them are all doing the same thing in the same place, what an intriguing landscape they comprise. They make clear that we are not so separate from our environment or each other as the conservative elements would have us believe, and nowhere is that more evident than when there are no clothes separating anyone from anyone or anything.

That said, I can't wait to see what the "Bolivar" installation will look like. And I can't wait to hear what Hugo Chavez thinks of it, either.

How long did it take them to twig to this?

Oh. My. GAWD. Dare we hope that the US whore media is slowly waking up from its coma?

"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" — conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

Because the "some" often go unnamed, Bush can argue that his statements are true in an era of blogs and talk radio. Even so, "'some' suggests a number much larger than is actually out there," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said. "All politicians try to get away with this to a certain extent. What's striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff."

How long have we progressive types been saying this, and now finally the mainstream media thinks there just might be a story there?

BUSH USES STRAWMAN ARGUMENT!

Gawrsh, Mickey. Who'd of thunk it?

Alternative headlines may as well read:

WATER IS WET!

POPE IS CATHOLIC!

BEARS SHIT IN THE WOODS!

Now, when are they going to state the other thing that should have hit them over the head long ago:

BUSH USES STRAWMAN ARGUMENT BECAUSE HE DOESN'T HAVE A REAL POINT WORTH MAKING!!!

March 17, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Happy Flag Day, Venezuela!

This past Monday, March 12, marked yet another historic event in Venezuela: a brand-new flag for Flag Day (traditionally celebrated on that date since the early 1800s.) Here are some of the highlights:

Hugo Chavez carries in the new Venezuelan flag

President Hugo Chavez reverently carries in the new flag. You can't see it, but it's been noted that the coat of arms on his sash is still the old one; he hadn't had time to get a new one made. (This stands in stark contrast to the "dictator for a day" who briefly deposed Chavez in 2002; Pedro Carmona had his own fake presidential sash custom-tailored in advance of the coup, on a visit to Spain.)

Hugo Chavez hoisting the flag

President Chavez hoists the flag.

A giant version of the new flag flies between two monuments at Fuerte Tiuna, Caracas

A giant version of the new flag flies between two monuments to the Wars of Independence at Fuerte Tiuna, Caracas.

On a not-so-festive note, there was also an incident at a celebration of the new flag. The opposition, never reluctant to abuse Chavez no matter how minor or ridiculous the grounds, held up desecrated versions of the new flag (with the coat of arms and new eighth star torn out), and yanked a copy of the new flag out of the hands of a Chavista. As Luigino Bracci points out on his blog (in Spanish; scroll down about two-thirds for the relevant posts), "these cowards only dare to confront women". (And even so, it avails them naught--Chavista women can hold their own against anyone; Luigino also notes in passing that the oppos desecrated the OLD flag just as much, to spite Chavez, just two years ago. How soon they forget.)

A grand occasion indeed--and in spite of the best efforts of the villains to disrupt it.

Feliz Chavidad, amigos y amigas.

March 16, 2006

Got stem cells?

I do! I do!

And so do all menstruating women...in fact, you might say it's in our blood:

Japanese researchers have harvested stem cells from human menstrual blood, a medical conference has heard.

The researchers say these stem cells could be coaxed into forming specialised heart cells, which might one-day be used to treat failing or damaged hearts.

At the meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Dr Shunichiro Miyoshi reported that he and his colleagues at Keio University in Tokyo collected menstrual blood from six women and harvested stem cells that originated in the lining of the uterus.

They were able to obtain about 30 times more stem cells from menstrual blood than from bone marrow, Miyoshi says.

The stem cells were then cultured in a way to induce them to become heart cells.

After five days about half of the cells contracted "spontaneously, rhythmical and synchronously, suggesting the presence of electrical communication" between the cells, Miyoshi says.

That is to say, they behaved like heart cells.

The researcher explains that already stem cells derived from bone marrow have improved heart function, mainly by producing new blood vessels rather than new heart-muscle tissue.

He emphasises that it is important that these cells be obtained from younger patients, because they would have a longer lifespan than cells harvested from older donors.

I don't know what's cooler: the fact that my beeyootiful uterus is just about to shed its monthly whackload of stem cells, or the fact that they're naturally geared toward regenerating damaged heart tissue.

Now, pardon me while I burst into totally tasteless, yet utterly appropriate song:

I'm havin' my monthly--

What a lovely way to say how much I love me!

...and equal mediocrity for all

What a surprise. Seems the much-vaunted US healthcare system (or rather, LACK thereof) just ain't all that 'n' a bag of chips, after all...

Startling research from the biggest study ever of U.S. health-care quality suggests that Americans -- rich, poor, black, white -- get roughly equal treatment, but it's woefully mediocre for all.

"This study shows that health care has equal-opportunity defects," said Dr. Donald Berwick, who runs the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass.

The survey of nearly 7,000 patients, reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine, considered only urban-area dwellers who sought treatment, but it still challenged some stereotypes: These blacks and Hispanics got slightly better medical treatment than whites.

While the researchers acknowledged separate evidence that minorities fare worse in some areas of expensive care and suffer more from some conditions than whites, their study found that, once in treatment, minorities' overall care appears similar to that of whites.

"It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor, white or black, insured or uninsured," said chief author Dr. Steven Asch, at the RAND Heath research institute in Santa Monica. "We all get equally mediocre care."

The researchers, who included U.S. Veterans Affairs personnel, first published their findings for the general population in June 2003. They reported the breakdown by racial, income and other social groups today.

They examined medical records and phone interviews from 6,712 randomly picked patients who visited a medical office within a two-year period in 12 metropolitan areas such as Boston, Miami and Seattle. The group conveys a broad picture of the country's health-care practices.

The survey examined whether people got the highest standard of treatment for 439 measures ranging from common chronic and acute conditions to disease prevention.

Overall, patients received only 55 percent of recommended steps for top-quality care -- and no group did much better or worse than that.

Blacks and Hispanics as a group each got 58 percent of the best care, compared with 54 percent for whites. Those with annual household income of more than $50,000 got 57 percent, 4 points more than people from households of less than $15,000. Patients without insurance got 54 percent of recommended steps, just 1 percent less than those with managed care.

As to gender, women came out slightly ahead with 57 percent, compared with 52 percent for men. Young adults did slightly better than the elderly.

There were narrow snapshots of inequality: An insured white woman, for example, got 57 percent of the best standard of care, and an uninsured black man got 51 percent.

"Though we are improving, disparities in health care still exist," said Dr. Garth Graham, director of the U.S. Office of Minority Health.

Graham pointed to other data showing enduring inequality in care, including a large federal study last year. He also said minorities go without treatment more often than whites, and such people are missed entirely by this survey.

Some experts took heart in the survey's relative equality. "The study did find some reassuring things," said Dr. Tim Carey, who runs a health-service research center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

But all health experts interviewed fretted about the uniformly low standard. "Regardless of who you are or what group you're in, there is a significant gap between the care you deserve and the care you receive," said Dr. Reed Tuckson, vice president of United HealthGroup, which runs health plans and sells medical data.

No time like the present to start implementing a true single-payer system. It might actually make an improvement overall, simply by eliminating fragmentation and ensuring universal access, as it did in Canada.

Never mind all the naysayers trying to convince us that we have it worse because we "lack choice", or that long wait times are somehow a fault of the system, instead of where the blame really lies (i.e., with government bean-counters who are trying to cut corners so the rich can have a tax break); we Canucks know the true score. People don't die waiting in the emergency room here, as the scaremongers of the right-wing "institutes" like to claim. Nor is care withheld. It is, however, often delayed, due to a system which has been for years underfunded by a government habituated to right-wing pro-privatization rhetoric. (Read: BULLSHIT.)

This is undeniably out of touch with the public's wants and needs. We just don't have the time or the interest, never mind the money, to go doctor-, clinic-, hospital- or insurance-shopping. And moves toward privatization have done nothing but hurt us. We like our system, we understand that if it were properly managed it would work even better, and we know the US would like it too, if it ever got off its duff and actually IMPLEMENTED something like it.

But noooooo...that would be evil, wicked socialism. And we can't have that, let alone equality AND quality, all at the same time now--can we? No, let's just let the "market" go on taking care of it...

...or NOT, as the case in fact is.

Wish I'd been there too

The K Chronicles goes to a Thomas Dolby show

Yes, I realize this probably gives away more about my age than I'd care to admit.

So what?

Big new oilfield found in Mexico

And with it, one more reason to broom out the toadying Vicente Fox:

Mexican President Vicente Fox has announced the discovery of a new deep-water oil field, which is believed to contain 10bn barrels of crude.

The field is in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mexico says it could be bigger than its largest oil field, Cantarell.

Production there is said to have declined sharply in recent years.

Mr Fox made the announcement as figures showed the country's total oil reserves had fallen 2% between 2003 and 2005.

Perforation of the well known as Noxal 1, which is located about 100km (60 miles) from the port of Coatzacoalcos on the coast of Veracruz state, started in December.

The oil is under 930 metres (0.6 miles) of water and a further 4,000 metres (2.5 miles) underground.

[...]

The government says its investment in exploration will enable Mexico to maintain its current output in the future.

With at least 3.4m barrels per day, Mexico is Latin America's largest crude producer ahead of Venezuela and Brazil, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The oil industry provides one third of the Mexican state income. More than half the crude extracted is exported, mainly to the United States.

The state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is among the biggest players in the international oil market.

Mexico is not a member of oil producers' cartel Opec.

Maybe it should be. Then Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador can, when elected, follow Hugo Chavez's good example and invest those oil revenues where they belong: in Mexico's infrastructure and social programs.

March 15, 2006

So...how's that War on Drugs going, eh Dubya?

Not so well now in the home of Afghan opium, I see...

Afghanistan will encourage its powerful drug lords to invest their illegally earned profits back into the war-shattered country, according to the governor of the nation's top opium-growing region.

The offer comes amid warnings of another bumper poppy crop that will fuel a booming narcotics trade that already accounts for 35 percent of the impoverished nation's income.

"We as a government will provide them the opportunity to use their money for the national benefit," said Helmand Governor Mohammed Daud during a two-day trip this week to the region by US Ambassador Ronald Neumann.

"They must invest in industries. They must invest in construction companies," he said.

But he said so far the government has had no success in attracting the drug lords to open new businesses, and that most of the money is being sent overseas.

So profitable is the drug trade that it employs about one in 10 Afghans and brought in US$2.8 billion last year, Afghan and US officials say. The vast majority of that goes to traffickers and only a fraction to farmers.

About 140,000 hectares of poppies are believed to have been planted this year -- an increase of up to 40 percent from last year. The opium is refined into heroin before being smuggled out of the country to meet 90 percent of the world's supply.

A US diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the drug trade was so entrenched that it was difficult to confront the narco bosses head-on.

He said one or two major traffickers have approached the Afghan government for talks on a possible informal amnesty in return for ending their involvement in drugs, swearing allegiance to President Hamid Karzai's government, investing their money at home and paying taxes.

But the diplomat said that no deals had been reached. Most of their money is stashed in banks in the United Arab Emirates, he said.

Gee. Kinda makes Hugo Chavez's petropopulism look...well, pretty damn DECENT...doesn't it?

And how about that UAE, eh? Sounds to me like the sort of place where bad money would go to die...or in this case, make its ill-gotten gainer even MORE dirty, rotten money.

Yeah, tell me again how this war was really about fighting terrorism, BushCo. If you sing it tunefully enough, I might even cry.

They are losing in the Marketplace of Ideas

That's the only conclusion I can draw about right-wingers after reading this, from RawStory.com:

The San Diego affiliate of Air America Radio has offered a job to Linda Laroca, a Vista, California woman who is suing her former employer after purportedly being fired for having the progressive talk radio station's bumper sticker on her car.

"KLSD has offered her a job in the sales department with a guarantee that if she has a KLSD bumper sticker on her car, she won't be fired," KLSD radio host Stacy Taylor told RAW STORY.

[...]

In a lawsuit filed Feb. 21, Laroca alleged that Beverly Fath, her former manager at Advantage Sales and Marketing, spotted the KLSD bumper sticker on Laroca's car in a grocery store parking lot, where they had met to exchange some paperwork. According to Laroca's suit, Fath called KLSD "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station," told Laroca that she could be a member of Al-Qaida, and fired her on the spot.

Laroca's suit seeks lost wages and damages for wrongful termination for violations of the state labor code as well as public policy. California is one of the few states which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on political beliefs. In addition, Laroca claims emotional distress and violations of the California constitution.

The employer later claimed the comment about firing was a joke and asked Laroca to return to work, Laroca said in an interview on Taylor's radio show Mar. 10.

Laroca declined, citing a climate of intimidation. Laroca's former employer has declined to comment on the suit.

"The unwelcoming, very hostile environment is clearly there," Taylor said.

Asked if he was surprised to learn that a listener had lost a job over a bumper sticker, Taylor replied, "Yes and no. Going all the way back to 2004, we've gotten a lot of anecdotal evidence, call-ins from people, with bumper stickers for liberal causes." Listeners reported reactions ranging from angry looks to more serious confrontations. "In fact we had one woman who said her husband was fired for listening to Air America on the job."

This was not the first time that Laroca had been the target of hostility for expressing her political views in public.

"A couple of weeks before the firing incident, she had her tires slit over a confrontation over a T-shirt she'd been wearing that was not flattering to President Bush—at the same Vons parking lot where this incident happened," Taylor said.

KLSD isn't the only liberal radio entity to encounter suppression tactics. Syndicated Air America host Randi Rhodes is being sued by CACI International Inc. for comments she made on her show about the role of CACI employees in the torture of prisoners in Iraq. CACI, an Iraq contractor, is facing legal action over an interpreter's alleged role in torturing detainees. The company denies the claim.

Other Air America hosts also say they face intimidation on the job. Atlanta-based Air America host Mike Malloy says he has received death threats against his 19-month-old daughter.

"We get e-mails," he told RAW STORY. "I've turned them over to the FBI. They threatened to kill her, to beat her up, to rape her." Malloy says he has previously received threats from the religious right, adding that Atlanta police once advised him to get a permit and carry a gun.

Recently, conservatives have purchased several stations broadcasting Air America broadcasts and changed the programming. In Phoenix and West Virginia, right-wing Christian groups bought out Air America affiliate stations and converted to Christian formats. In Missoula, Montana, a station switched from Air America to music programming "because advertisers were being intimidated by the right wing," Malloy said.

[...]

Taylor observed that many rightwing talk show hosts including Fox News personalities have long been reporting that Air America is about to go out of business.

"It's all totally bogus," mused the KLSD host, who sees a silver lining to the controversy. "The good side about this is that all these righties are kvetching…saying we're about to go under — yet they seem very obsessed about it. Anybody who would deface a car, slit a tire, or fire somebody — they realize that their own arguments are becoming sort of bankrupt."

Asked earlier this month by The Nation about Air America's future, host Al Franken declared, "Look, Bill O'Reilly alone has said that Air America was on the verge of collapse thirty-six times. We're not going anywhere."

And that's a Good Thing. Keep the faith, people. I hear Rush Limbaugh has been losing listeners for quite some time now, and now he's losing stations as well.

And Mike, I know you'll be watching little Molly's back and keeping your pooshka well-oiled and at hand for just such an emergency.

These rightards are cowards, for no one else would threaten a baby in order to further a fraudulent ideology. And no one knows it better than a liberal with a microphone.

Culture of Life, anyone?

Auntie Condi praises Indonesia

Couldn't you just puke?

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held up Indonesia's "tolerance" as an example to the Muslim world, on her first official visit to the nation.

She acknowledged that US foreign policy was not always popular but said she respected all faiths and welcomed Indonesia's help in fighting terror.

[...]

Hundreds of people protested in Jakarta as Ms Rice's two-day visit began.

Chanting anti-US slogans, they held a rowdy demonstration outside the heavily guarded US embassy building in the capital.

Analysts say Washington is keen to build closer ties with the world's most populous Muslim state.

Speaking in Jakarta with Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, Ms Rice praised Indonesia's co-operation in fighting terror and its pursuit of democracy as an "inspiration" to the Muslim world.

"I think Indonesia has a very big role to play as an example of what moderation, tolerance and inclusiveness of society can be," she said.

Ms Rice also sought to counter criticism in the region of US actions abroad.

"I understand that the United States has had to do things in the world that are not that popular in much of the world," she said.

Translation: PLEASE keep sucking up to us! We're losing friends all over the region, and we want you to forget that we supported your dictator Suharto in the past. Bad old East Timor! Bad! Bad!

They can't blame THIS on Hugo Chavez...

...because it's not happening anywhere near his turf:

Ecuador says it is investigating what it describes as a violation of its airspace by the Colombian military.

Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin said a Colombian aircraft had been picked up by Ecuadorean radar at the weekend.

Colombia denied over flying Ecuadorean territory, but said the aircraft had been deployed after an attack by rebels, who then escaped into Ecuador.

It is the latest of a series of incidents along the border that have provoked diplomatic tension.

Colombia has been fighting an offensive by the country's largest guerrilla group, the Farc, in the region.

Last month, the government of Bogota issued an apology after one of its aircraft "accidentally" entered Ecuador's airspace in an operation against Farc rebels.

Ecuador responded by stepping up radar surveillance along the 580km (360m) border the two countries share.

Colombian and Ecuadorean officials will discuss the issue at a meeting of military officials on Tuesday.

Ecuador has remained neutral in Colombia's struggle against a 41-year-old Marxist insurgency, despite requests for assistance.

Remember how some claimed that Hugo Chavez was supporting the FARC--to the point of contributing Venezuelan troops to support their cause? That's a dirty lie, just so's you know--he simply put his own army on the Colombia/Venezuela border so as to contain any guerilla war spillover. It's called keeping the peace at home, duh.

Ditto the abduction of Rodrigo Granda of the FARC from the streets of Caracas; that was a distinct violation of Venezuelan sovereignty, backed by the US if not orchestrated outright, with the intent of provoking an international incident. To Chavez's credit and BushCo's disappointment, no such thing happened. What's truly embarrassing, though--at least for Chavez's detractors--is the ample evidence that FARC sympathizes with the Bolivarian Revolution, rather than the other way 'round.

Anyhow, here's one Colombian problem they definitely can't hang on Chavez's neck. Colombia's civil war is a problem for ALL her neighbors, not just Venezuela. But I'm sure they'll find some reason to try to depose Ecuador's president, all the same. He's not exactly a US toady, either.

March 14, 2006

Yecch!

I mean, what else is there to say about this?

Across the country, post-pubescent and peri-menopausal women alike are having their vaginas tightened, their mons pubis liposuctioned, their labial folds nipped and their clitoral hoods tucked. Most are seeking to restore what plastic surgeons are calling "a more youthful look" to this long-secreted corner of the female anatomy and often to improve their sex lives in the process. (In some cases, women with few pretensions to virginity are surprising their partners by having their hymens surgically restored.)

Other women, bothered by the imperfect proportions of their genitalia, undergo surgery just to bolster their self-image — a boost that often pays sexual dividends as well.

"I was the type who always wanted to have the lights down low" when having sex, says Holly, a 50-year-old medical assistant who recently had surgery to trim her labia minora and who asked that her last name not be used to maintain her privacy. "Just being comfortable with my body, this was huge for me. I was able to be sexually confident."

Even as the small but growing group of genital plastic surgeons devise new and better surgical techniques, they acknowledge the standards women hope to achieve are set mostly by adult film actresses, strippers and nude denizens of the Internet.

"I know what women want," says Dr. David L. Matlock of Los Angeles, an obstetrician turned plastic surgeon who has been a pioneer in devising and popularizing the procedures. He knows, he says, because so many of his patients tote their husband's or boyfriend's magazines into his office and point to photos almost as explicit as the before-and-after ones posted on many surgeons' websites.

More traditional plastic surgeons and gynecologists may be reluctant to endorse such procedures, but the demand is undeniable. Vulvar and vaginal plastic surgery is one of the fastest-growing areas in plastic surgery, say some in the field.

Many of the techniques have been practiced for decades by obstetricians and gynecologists to repair childbirth-related injuries, and by urologists and reconstructive surgeons who repair birth defects or perform sex-reassignment surgery. But in the late 1990s, a few surgeons began offering the procedures as a means to enhance the aesthetic appearance of women's genital organs and, in some cases, to improve sexual function.

Interesting that they said function, not sensation. I'm guessing that is one thing that doesn't improve, post-op...

Some people might be surprised at who's getting it, too:

Next year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons expects to begin collecting data on the number of vulvar and vaginal procedures its members are performing. Several practitioners of the new procedures, including a pair of Los Angeles plastic surgeons, have been profiled on cable TV shows pitched to viewers hungry for news of the beautiful and famous. And members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have begun grumbling that it's an issue on which they need to weigh in.

But Dr. V. Leroy Young, who chairs the Emerging Trends Task Force of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says the true gauge of these procedures' popularity may lie precisely in the fact that, far from either coast, conservative heartland women are paying doctors like him to perform them.

Young performs about two to three vulvar procedures a month on women who "would never dare ask the question at a church social," but who can now learn about such procedures on the Internet and on TV. "It's right here in middle America," says Young, whose practice is based in Creve Coeur, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Actually, I'd say this is not so much a measure of the popularity of the surgery as it is of the shame these repressed heartlanders feel about their "less than perfect" genitals (whatever perfect may mean, since female external genitalia are as unique as fingerprints--and, when healthy, just as functional, regardless of appearance.) These churchladies may not wear burqas, but their willingness to resort to such extreme genital modification makes them every bit as psychosexually messed-up as any tribe that resorts to female genital mutilation or honor killing.

And now, for something truly yucky--and pathetic. If you are at all squeamish, you may want to scroll past this next bit:

In 2000, many Americans learned about a new procedure called labiaplasty when a porn star known as Houston had her labia-reduction surgery filmed and distributed to subscribers, then later auctioned off the excised flesh over the Internet.

Sharon Mitchell, executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills, says few of today's adult film actresses are having the surgery because so many are already very young. But Mitchell, an adult film actress for 25 years before she earned a doctorate in human sexuality, says the adult film industry's emphasis on youth, as well as its growing audience among beauty-conscious women, is almost certainly driving the upsurge in the surgery.

And many women take the standards set by sex workers very much to heart, say doctors performing the surgeries.

"I hear it time and time again," says Dr. Gary Alter, a urologist-turned-plastic-surgeon who operates out of offices in Beverly Hills and New York City. "The woman says, 'I thought I was normal and I watch these movies with my boyfriends and now I feel like I must be a freak.' They feel they're the only ones in the world."

See, this is just one of the many reasons why I don't like porn. (The other ones being that the dialogue sucks, the clinical lighting is a huge turn-off, the mostly fake females ditto, the guys are generally hideous, the scenarios are absurd and contrived, and as a result, the whole thing just does absolutely NOTHING for me.) When a woman comes away from watching a mechanical, unrealistic rendition of sex, and thinks her body needs all kinds of mangulations to look appetizing, that's just sad. I'm not anti-porn out of any prudish grounds, let alone belief in the exploitativeness of it; I just personally can't stand it because it's a real pleasure killer for me on so many levels.

And speaking of pleasure killers, here's another piece the squeamish will want to sail past:

"You're basically taking a risk for no or very little benefit" with most of these surgeries, says Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, immediate past president of the Society of Gynecological Surgeons. Stovall warns that with labiaplasties and vaginal tightening, patients run the risk of developing infection and scar tissue, which can decrease sensation — or worse, cause pain — in the areas where incisions have been made.

As for the claim that vaginal tightening can enhance sexual gratification, Stovall insists "there is no scientific basis" to support it. "It might make it better for her partners," says Stovall, but the female patient is taking a risk without much prospect of personal benefit.

Feminists too have criticized the trend. Judy Norsigian, co-founder and author of the feminist health tract "Our Bodies, Ourselves," says women who have these surgeries are taking risks to adhere to standards of feminine beauty that are fleeting, unnatural and, ultimately, dictated by a society in which men are fixated on barely pubescent girls.

Norsigian and others have spoken out against Brazilian waxes, a popular hair removal trend that leaves all but a tiny wisp of pubic hair intact, as a reflection of that fetish. In turn, by making women's genitals more visible, the Brazilian wax trend has naturally led more women to take the risky next step of having their genitalia surgically altered, she says.

"We live in a country where people are always thinking up new things, new practices, new ways to make money," says Norsigian. "And if you can play upon an insecurity, you can get a lot of people to do a lot of things."

Both the doctor and the feminist health critic have a good point--this is NOT about any real benefits for the woman, no matter how much anyone blathers about how "empowered" such an operation makes a woman feel. A vagina shouldn't be tightened for strictly cosmetic reasons; only compelling health reasons, such as cancer, urinary leakage or uterine prolapse, legitimately occasion a vaginal operation. The health risks from such a surgery are real, and can ruin your life. Just ask Waris Dirie, who was genitally mutilated as a child and is now an outspoken campaigner against the "perfecting" procedure that caused her so much needless suffering.

Besides: how much of a daring bad girl can you be if you try to fix what ain't broken, just so you can look a little younger and feel a little tighter "down there"? For between $7,000 and $18,000 US, no less?

Seems like an awfully high price to pay for looking like a pedophile's wet dream.

March 13, 2006

Call it Slobocide

...because that's what it is.

A Dutch toxicologist said Monday he found traces of an unprescribed antibiotic in Slobodan Milosevic's system earlier this year after the former Yugoslav leader did not respond to blood pressure medication given at the U.N. detention center.

Donald Uges said he found traces of rifampicin, an antituberculosis drug that "makes the liver extremely active" and thus breaks down other medications very quickly, possibly taking away their effectiveness.

Milosevic, 64, had a history of heart problems and high blood pressure, and took medications to treat those conditions. He was found dead in his jail cell Saturday morning of an apparent heart attack.

His ailments caused numerous delays in his four-year trial for orchestrating a decade of conflict that killed 250,000 people and tore the Yugoslav federation asunder. No verdict will be issued.

[...]

Milosevic was found dead on his prison bed Saturday morning, just hours after writing an accusatory letter alleging that a "heavy drug" had been found in his bloodstream.

The allegations in what amounted to Milosevic's deathbed letter put the tribunal and U.N. prosecutors on the defensive about whether they had given Milosevic the medical treatment he needed and whether they had conducted the trial properly and effectively.

The tribunal said Sunday a heart attack killed Milosevic, according to preliminary findings from Dutch pathologists, who conducted a nearly eight-hour autopsy on the former Yugoslav leader.

A tribunal spokeswoman said it was too early to determine whether poison caused the heart attack, saying a final autopsy report would be released in coming days.

[...]

Before the autopsy results were available, chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said suicide could not be ruled out. Milosevic's parents committed suicide.

Tomanovic said the ex-president feared he was being poisoned. He showed reporters a six-page letter Milosevic wrote to Russian officials Friday — the day before his death — claiming that traces of an antibiotic he had never knowingly taken were found in his blood.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed that Milosevic's aides handed the letter to the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands on Saturday.

Tomanovic said Milosevic was "seriously concerned" he was being poisoned.

"They would like to poison me," he quoted Milosevic as telling him.

He cited a Jan. 12 Dutch medical report which showed traces of medication used against leprosy and tuberculosis, but he said Milosevic had never knowingly taken them.

Uges, whom the tribunal asked to confirm the findings in a test in February, said he found the same antibiotic in Milosevic's blood weeks later.

Milosevic asked the tribunal in December for permission to seek heart treatment in Moscow. That request was denied after tribunal officials expressed concern Milosevic might not return. He repeated the request last month.

[...]

Del Ponte said claims that Milosevic committed suicide or was poisoned were "just rumors" so far.

"You have the choice between normal, natural death and suicide, and of course it could be possible," she said. "It is a possibility."

But a Milosevic associate who said he spoke to the former Yugoslav leader Friday described Milosevic as defiant hours before his death.

"He told me, 'Don't you worry: They will not destroy me or break me. I shall defeat them all,'" Milorad Vucelic, a Socialist Party official, said Saturday in Belgrade.

[...]

Milosevic was the sixth war crimes suspect from the Balkans to die at The Hague. A week earlier, convicted former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic, a star prosecution witness against Milosevic, killed himself in the same prison.

(Emphasis mine.)

The timing of this is awfully fortuitous given Milosevic's brag--not to mention the overall pattern of strange deaths at The Hague, wouldn't you say?

And somehow, I have grave doubts that an international war crimes tribunal would have anything to gain by poisoning an accused criminal to death.

Therefore, two scenarios remain as the only plausible ones: Milosevic, hoping to make his escape by intentionally aggravating his existing illness, ended up dying by accident, OR--Milosevic intentionally committed suicide so he could die unconvicted.

Either way, his death is not natural, nor is it murder.

Why I love George Clooney

In a nutshell, here it is.

The right to choose...deadbeat daddydom?

Talk about polishing a turd with a legal gloss:

Contending that women have more options than they do in the event of an unintended pregnancy, men's rights activists are mounting a long shot legal campaign aimed at giving them the chance to opt out of financial responsibility for raising a child.

The National Center for Men has prepared a lawsuit — nicknamed Roe v. Wade for Men — to be filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Michigan on behalf of a 25-year-old computer programmer ordered to pay child support for his ex-girlfriend's daughter. The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose.

"There's such a spectrum of choice that women have — it's her body, her pregnancy and she has the ultimate right to make decisions," said Mel Feit, director of the men's center. "I'm trying to find a way for a man also to have some say over decisions that affect his life profoundly."

Feit's organization has been trying since the early 1990s to pursue such a lawsuit, and finally found a suitable plaintiff in Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Mich.

Dubay says he has been ordered to pay $500 a month in child support for a girl born last year to his ex-girlfriend. He contends that the woman knew he didn't want to have a child with her and assured him repeatedly that — because of a physical condition — she could not get pregnant.

Dubay is braced for the lawsuit to fail.

"What I expect to hear (from the court) is that the way things are is not really fair, but that's the way it is," he said in a telephone interview. "Just to create awareness would be enough, to at least get a debate started."

Uh, just what is there to debate here? As Steve Gilliard says, this guy--and his "movement" supporters--are just looking to legalize and legitimize something that already exists and always has, but is now (rightly) frowned upon: the deadbeat dad. The only difference is that they want to compel women to sign away their right to receive child support if they choose to keep a child the guy they had sex with didn't want. No jail; no consequences for him. Just sex, and if she gets pregnant--too bad, so sad!

Of course, the timing of this cutely-named suit couldn't be more convenient. The REAL Roe v. Wade is under attack in three states right now, possibly with more to follow (depending on how emboldened the anti-choicers are in their respective necks of the woods.) And even rape and incest are not acceptable reasons for having an abortion there anymore. Pretty soon, even the life and health of the woman won't be acceptable, either.

So women are getting it in the neck from all directions: Can't choose abortion, can't choose to keep a child. Any way you slice it, men are taking over the reproductive decision-making...all over again. Could anything be more dreary than that?

Well, how about the specious reasoning these guys are using? That's pretty damn dreary:

"The problem is this is so politically incorrect," Feit added. "The public is still dealing with the pre-Roe ethic when it comes to men, that if a man fathers a child, he should accept responsibility."

Feit doesn't advocate an unlimited fatherhood opt-out; he proposes a brief period in which a man, after learning of an unintended pregnancy, could decline parental responsibilities if the relationship was one in which neither partner had desired a child.

"If the woman changes her mind and wants the child, she should be responsible," Feit said. "If she can't take care of the child, adoption is a good alternative."

No, dude, it's not "politically incorrect". Stop using weasel words and call it what it is: It's just plain old SEXIST. It's a reversion to the pre-Roe ethic for women, since men have been living that ethic all along anyway. If a guy found out his girlfriend was knocked up, he could just split--and leave her to deal with it alone. Or he could coerce her into an abortion she didn't want. Nothing's changed for the guys except that now they face jail time for not paying up. But the enterprising asshole can still abandon his oopsie if he's willing to go the distance to not get caught, and nothing's more enterprising than the way these assholes are pursuing this court case.

Meanwhile, the original male responsibility question is still going unaddressed: HEY GUYS, HOW ABOUT YOU SHOULDERING SOME BIRTH CONTROL RESPONSIBILITY FOR A CHANGE? How about a condom--or two, if you're really worried about unwanted pregnancy? How about you getting your tubes tied for a change? Or how about just keeping it zipped if you're in doubt as to whether you want a child out of this particular woman? Haven't women been taking care of that end of things alone for long enough?

At the very least, why not talk things out beforehand...and if you can't agree on a contingency plan, you can agree not to have sex. You don't need a contract for that.

Besides, sex-related contracts are just...so...icky.

So, guys, all's I can say to you is: SUCK IT UP. If you don't wanna pay up, you make damn good and sure not to knock 'er up. But until YOU can get pregnant from sex, don't talk to me about your "right" to decide what happens to a pregnancy. Unless it's happening to YOUR body, it's just not up to you to decide.

March 12, 2006

Headline Howlers: You can't make this shit up

...no matter how hard you try:

It's a subliminable message for the Big Dick!

Is someone sending the Big Dick a subliminable message?

(Yes, it's real. And it comes courtesy of Reuters.)

March 11, 2006

Is the Pigman glad now?

Hey, Pigman Limbaugh...you'll be happy to know that Tom Fox is dead. Yay! One more pesky peacenik has learned his lesson the hard way. I bet you're popping OxyContin by the fat old fistful just to celebrate this...

The body of a kidnapped U.S. peace activist was found bound and shot in Baghdad, police said on Saturday, while President George W. Bush warned Americans of more fighting and sacrifice before U.S. troops could come home.

[...]

Police said the body of Tom Fox, kidnapped in November with three colleagues by a group calling itself the Swords of Truth, was discovered on Thursday with the hands tied and a single gunshot wound to the head at a rubbish dump in western Baghdad.

The American, who had campaigned against what he called the dehumanization of the U.S. occupation, appeared to have been beaten with electric cables before his death, said a policeman who found the body beside a railway line.

The kidnappers, one of many armed groups that have seized more than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion, had threatened to kill the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams unless U.S. forces and Iraqi authorities freed all prisoners in their custody.

There was no word on the fate of Fox's three colleagues.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said Fox's body was on its way back to the United States. She had no comment on his death.

Fears about Fox's fate were raised earlier this week when Arabic television station Al Jazeera aired a video dated February 28 showing only fellow kidnapped activists Briton Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden.

Well, now we know why Tom Fox wasn't in the picture. If he wasn't already dead when that footage was taken, he was probably being isolated from the others in advance of his murder. Probably being tortured, too, if the condition of his body is any indication.

But hey, Rush, don't let me rain all over your piggy party. Celebrate! You've been rubbing your pudgy hands and looking forward to this, after all...

On November 29, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh read an Associated Press report about the apparent kidnapping of four Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) activists by an Iraqi insurgent group. Limbaugh announced that "part of me likes this." He explained: "Well, here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality."

After suggesting that the story "could all be BS ... could all be a stunt," Limbaugh said, "We'll take it face value at first." Addressing the kidnapped CPT activists, Limbaugh said, "[Y]ou've met the bad guys, and you tried your technique on them, and now you're blindfolded in a room with guns pointed at you and knives at your throat. I don't like that." He then added, "But any time a bunch of people that walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds, if necessary, and have things sized up."

Well, Rush...I guess now we know what wasn't BS. And what wasn't a stunt. It was always deathly serious, and Tom Fox knew that. That's why he went, in fact. He wasn't afraid to lay down his life for peace, or to try and help other people--unlike you, who only showed up long enough to drop a load of chicken crap on the soldiers suffering and dying over in Afghanistan.

Yeah, talk to us some more about "feel-good hand-wringers", Rush, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it. What were you doing over there on your all-too-brief stay, if not wringing your hands about the "unpatriotic" liberals and trying to convince soldiers to feel good about being there to fight, die and commit murder and torture for nothing--except maybe Deadeye Dick and Gee Dubya's oily cronies?

As for reality and "having things sized up": I don't think Tom Fox would have changed his mind as a result of being taken captive, even at the last moment. There is no reason why he should have; he was in the right, and he was in deeper contact with reality than the Pigman will ever be. His death doesn't change that.

You, on the other hand, could sure use a dose of reality for a change, instead of more Oxy. Your irresponsible, idiotic theories (which you've never had the guts to put to the test) are costing thousands of innocent lives.

Tom Fox was too decent and too busy doing God's work to say this, so I'll say it on his behalf:

Fuck you, Rush Limbaugh. Fuck you very much, and damn you and all your cowardly ilk to hell.

Festive Left Friday Blogging, slightly belated

Enter, stage left, wearing a presidential sash:

Michelle Bachelet at her inauguration

Michelle Bachelet, inaugurated today in Valparaiso, Chile.

And speaking of leftists who look great in sashes, I've been dying to post these for a while:

Huguito Chavecito, muy bonito

The tricolor and the hardware are great, and the sword's a brilliant touch, but what really does me in here are those cute little white gloves Hugo's wearing.

Hugo and Evo at Evo's inauguration

And of course, Evo looks muy sabroso in his inaugural bling, too.

So long, Paris!

It'll be so nice not knowing you anymore...

Graydon Carter banned Paris Hilton from the Vanity Fair Oscar bash. Now, the heirhead may find herself disinvited from Elton John's annual Oscar bash as well. "The party is a benefit gala, and tickets are $2,500 a pop," said our spy. "When it was suggested to her that she donate the money, Paris just said, 'Don't you know who I am?' and waltzed right in. Isn't she supposed to be wealthy? Everyone else paid. She won't be asked back."

The rich aren't like the rest of us. For starters, the rest of us have much better manners. Plus, the rest of us understand the meaning of benefits and charity events.

And, above all, the rest of us don't generally get away with such blatant gatecrashing.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what comes of having a big name and an even bigger head. When you're used to getting paid six digits just to breathe and show up, little things like the greater good just have a way of slipping that windy, tumbleweed-blown place where a mind ought to be.

March 10, 2006

Please, Bill...don't thank us

Those of us who really know the score, aren't happy about our role in Afghanistan. And your saying things like this doesn't help:

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton thanked Canadians for staying the course in Afghanistan, knowing the price of that commitment is the blood of its soldiers.

"It's painful that you're losing people there and I'm sorry," Mr. Clinton said Thursday in a speech to 7,000 people at Rexall Place.

"But you've done a good thing for the cause of freedom and the stability of Canada.

"And as a citizen I am profoundly grateful that you've stayed the course and I appreciate it," he said to applause.

[...]

He noted that should troops pull out, the government of President Hamid Karzai, a moderate Muslim, would have to reach out to local drug warlords to keep control.

"If we were to abandon him, he would be forced to make even more deals with those people, which would bring more drugs to Canada, the United States and Europe," he said.

Political chaos, he said, would also re-open the door to Taliban forces to retake control of parts of the country and give terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda a staging ground for attacks abroad.

With all due respect, Big Dawg...this isn't about the cause of freedom, or the stability of Canada. We would be more free, and probably a helluva lot more stable, if we'd stayed the hell out of there. As it is, we've just slapped a big KICK ME sign on our own backs for al-Q to heed...

Don't get us wrong, Bill; we like you. (We like you even more when we compare you to your two immediate predecessors and your successor.) But we Canadians are not, by and large, a people that equate wartime bloodshed with the cause of freedom. We know for a fact that war makes us less free; our own history confirms it, as does yours. And we also know that freedom is just another word, unless you take it in hand and live it, rather than die "defending" something else which you've mistaken for it.

Besides, Hamid Karzai's control doesn't extend beyond Kabul, and never did (nor will it). He's Unocal's man in the 'stan. He's not going to pull the country together behind him no matter what drug lords and warlords he gets onside. (And besides, Canada's biggest drug problem is NOT Afghan heroin, which is actually the least of our woes; it's imported European synthetic drugs and homegrown pot. Not so much the dope per se, but the fact that it's illegal, leading producers to run serious fire risks in the name of keeping their grow-ops and polydrug labs clandestine.)

No, Bill...this is about one thing only: the tyranny (and "stability") of the very US-dominated "coalition" that is NATO, which by all rights should have been dismantled when the Berlin Wall fell (and the Warsaw Pact dissolved), as that is when its original mandate ended.

Funny, too, how you never did anything about the Taliban yourself while in office. Didn't they seize power on your watch? Maybe you're ashamed of the fact that your country is actually behind the creation of them, out of those cuddly mujahideen the US enlisted to drive the Soviets out--and the CIA, under your predecessors Reagan and Bush, trained Osama bin Laden? You're a smart man, Bill. Surely you can't be unaware of all this. But you could very well be embarrassed, and unsure what to do, and anxious to distance yourself from it. No wonder you've swept it neatly under the rug with fine talk of "freedom" and "stability".

No, Bill, don't thank us. Please. If you want to show real respect to us Canucks, just own up to your country's role in creating this mess it's in--and which it's pulled us into, over the objections of a clear majority of the Canadian people.

And please, PLEASE, Bill--don't ask us to get any further embroiled. We can't afford that kind of "freedom". The sooner we can get out, the better it will be for all of us.

We don't want to stay on al-Q's hit list, and neither should you.

Quotable: Arthur Golden on "kept" women

"Since moving to New York I've learned what the word 'geisha' really means to most Westerners. From time to time at elegant parties, I've been introduced to some young woman or other in a splendid dress and jewelry. When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile, although the corners don't turn up quite as they should. She has no idea what to say! And then the burden of conversation falls to the man or woman who has introduced us--because I've never really learned much English, even after all these years. Of course, by this time there's little point even in trying, because this woman is thinking, 'My goodness...I'm talking with a prostitute...' A moment later, she's rescued by her escort, a wealthy man a good thirty or forty years older than she is. Well, I often find myself wondering why she can't sense how much we really have in common. She is a kept woman, you see, and in my day, so was I."

--Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

East Timor: the next Venezuela?

A certain leader in South America is setting a powerful good example--look who could be next in following it:

East Timor must invest its newfound wealth from oil and natural gas into rural development projects in order to lift the population out of abject poverty, a UN report said yesterday.

With the gradual departure of thousands of well-paid peacekeepers and international administrators who helped shepherd the former Indonesian province to independence in 2002, East Timor is actually getting poorer by the day, said the UN Development Fund report.

The tiny nation has an annual per capita income of US$370 and about 40 percent of its 800,000 people still live below the official poverty limit -- set at US$0.55 a day, said the document, which was jointly prepared by the UN agency and the East Timorese government.

But East Timor's prospects brightened significantly in January, when it signed a joint treaty with Australia allowing for oil and natural gas exploitation in the Timor Sea, which lies between the two countries, it said.

The deal will earn Dili at least US$10 billion in coming years, and further exploration is expected to uncover more undersea fields in East Timor's territorial waters.

"It is vital for us to ensure that these funds are managed in a way that benefits all communities in Timor-Leste," East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was quoted as saying in the report titled The Path Out of Poverty.

"This includes widening opportunities for the poorest populations in rural areas. It is also important for us to be forward-thinking and to wisely save and invest a portion of this money for future generations," she said.

East Timor was colonized by Portugal for four centuries before it was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia, which occupied the tiny territory with an iron fist for 24 years.

When East Timor voted for independence in a UN-organized referendum in 1999, the Indonesian military and its proxy militias struck back, unleashing a wave of violence that killed up to 1,500 people.

The world body administered the territory for two-and-a-half years, then handed it to the Timorese, but the world's newest nation remains desperately poor.

"Given the likely revenues from oil and gas ... it would be difficult to justify any plan that did not aim to reduce poverty," the 87-page document said.

Sukehiro Hasegawa, special UN representative in East Timor, recommended that -- since 80 percent of households earn their living from agriculture -- hydrocarbon earnings need to be channeled toward rural development.

The government should also provide credits to farmers, initiate land reform, encourage unification of widely dispersed hamlets in order to make it easier to provide public services, and establish rice and maize cooperatives and major irrigation schemes.

The report noted that East Timor has already moved to safeguard potential wealth, passing legislation last year to establish a petroleum fund that will put oil and gas revenues into a single account and regulate how much can be spent by successive governments.

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said recently the money would be used for infrastructure, health needs and education-- drawing praise from the international community.

If any of this looks familiar, it should--it's exactly what Hugo Chavez is doing with oil revenues in Venezuela.

March 9, 2006

Fascism as corporatism, take 2...

And this happened in Aceh Province, the same as was recently hit by a disastrous tsunami, albeit before the wave-from-hell hit:

Exxon Mobil Corp warned that a US judge's decision to allow villagers to file a lawsuit against the oil giant for alleged abuses by Indonesian troops in Aceh Province could set a precedent for all US companies operating abroad.

But the Irving, Texas-based company has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling, spokeswoman Susan Reeves said yesterday in a telephone interview.

The International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit in 2001 on behalf of 11 Acehnese villagers who said Exxon's Indonesian subsidiary allowed its facilities to be used by soldiers to torture locals and to commit other human-rights abuses.

The hearings were postponed in 2002 after the State Department said the lawsuit could harm US interests, but US District Judge Louis Oberdorfer ruled last week the case could proceed.

"The lawsuit created the potential for any US company operating overseas to be held vicariously liable for host government actions," Reeves said. "Such action would risk interference with US foreign relations and diplomacy."

Aceh, a province of 4 million people on the northern tip of Sumatra island, has seen a series of guerrilla wars since the Dutch occupied it in the 1870s.

The latest round of fighting, which broke out in 1976 when insurgents picked up arms to carve out an independent state, claimed 15,000 lives before it ended with the signing of a peace agreement last year.

Exxon's has previously said the military deployed four infantry battalions and an armored cavalry unit during the conflict to protect a natural gas field and pipeline operated by the company on behalf of Indonesia's state-run Pertamina energy conglomerate.

Human rights groups applauded Oberdorfer's ruling yesterday, saying Exxon should be held responsible for crimes carried out by soldiers and police on its property.

"The Acehnese have every right to file a lawsuit," said Yusuf Pase, a prominent lawyer and rights activist.

Sofyan Dawood, a former spokesman for the Rebel Free Aceh Movement, said Exxon is "part of the problem" in Aceh.

"It even provided places in which torture and violence against civilians took place," he said.

For those who've just started reading this blog recently, I posted a while back about how the Ford Motor Company has done something shockingly similar in Argentina.

The right-wingers prattle on and on about how evil Big Government is, but Big Corporations are no better. In fact, judging by the antics of Ford and Exxon, they're demonstrably worse. Why do wingnuts want to put these people in charge when they are so clearly either uncaring, incompetent, or just downright malevolent?

Oh yeah...I know. Compassionate Conservatism is just a cute catchphrase, as well as an oxymoron.

Let's hope this court case sets an international precedent. In fact, let's hope it sets several. The megacorps have gotten away with murder for far too long already.

For sale: One Canadian party leadership. Never been used.

Bidding is still open on eBay:

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That should be enough to put you in charge of what was, until recently, a major Canadian political party. So take the plunge and become Liberal leader. For more info check out the Rick Mercer Report Tuesdays at 8pm (8:30 NT) on CBC.

Current bid is $16 million CDN.

Oily American Gothic

Oily American Gothic!

Heh.

Taking the machismo out of rape

A blow-up sex doll illustrates an anti-rape campaign poster in Mexico

One more look at how certain countries are lagging behind in human rights: Mexico's huge misogyny problem. From the Beeb:

Mexico's government is using blow-up sex dolls in a new TV campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The ads feature dolls, dressed as secretaries and maids, who have to put up with leering and groping from male colleagues.

Officials say the aim of the campaign is to make clear that women are not sexual objects.

President Vicente Fox acknowledged on Wednesday that Mexico has to do more to overcome widespread machismo.

"Our society still has a long way to go in overcoming hangovers from the past, eradicating prejudice and changing habits," he said.

However, Mr Fox has himself caused offence recently by joking that women were just "washing machines with two legs".

My, what a charmer. That's so funny I forgot to laugh.

Mr. Fox has conveniently left out the fact that in the border regions, where the maquiladoras dominate the local economy, women are just sewing machines with legs. Essentially disposable, particularly to the mysterious perpetrators who are "disappearing" and murdering them. This abject exploitation brought to you by NAFTA--the same, incidentally, which Vicente Fox heartily supports, endorses, and is trying (unsuccessfully, thank heaven) to promote elsewhere in Latin America.

Fortunately, Fox's days in office are numbered; Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is gaining fast on him, and seems likely to take July's election, if the leftward tide throughout Latin America is anything to go by. Meanwhile, the Zapatistas (who are noteworthy for their share of feministas as well) are keeping things hot even in regions far from the border (but close, as always, to poverty and oppression.)

As yet, Mexico doesn't have its own Hugo Chavez, but that doesn't mean it can't take an example from the Bolivarian Revolution, especially as it relates to women. But to make it stick, they have to shrug off the shackles of NAFTA--and put down any dog who's willing to wear that collar.

After all, how can a country's women be truly free, dignified and respected if the #1 man in the land is just a cringing toady to other powers himself?

So who says Germans have no funnybones?

Watch this video and then try and tell me that.

Only one thing is wrong with this scenario, incidentally: German engineering is normally MUCH less kludgy than this. No wonder this guy couldn't get a job as a taxi driver.

Chavecito takes Cindy Sheehan under his wing, again

Gotta love a man who stands up for truth and right...and for that matter, a woman who does, too. And when that man also stands up for that woman, against the government that's persecuting her, well...I just get all warm and gooey inside reading things like this:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has highlighted the case of US citizen, Cindy Sheehan.

Coinciding with the International Women's Day, Chavez Frias says there are different ways of celebrating the occasion throughout the world but the USA takes the biscuit by imprisoning women.

"We have seen the photos with a lot of shame of how a group of policemen drags our friend and woman, who has become a world symbol of peace, not the peace of cemeteries but the peace that fights for life ... I mean Cindy Sheehan."

Mrs. Sheehan visited Venezuela in January to attend the World Social Forum.

The Venezuelan President says he was angry about the treatment meted out to Cindy, who lost her son in the Iraq war and is campaigning for the withdrawal of US troops.

"So much for democracy in the USA ... she was only going to hand in signatures against the war ... there is a dictatorship in the USA where the very powerful economic groups and hawks are holding a puppet called George Bush."

Once again, I invite you to compare and contrast the way two different presidents have treated Cindy Sheehan:

Cindy busted at the SOTU speech

Dubya, too cowardly to meet with Cindy and answer a simple question, sends his "love" in the form of a gaggle of goombahs...

Hugo greets Cindy the proper way

...while Chavecito relies on no such proxies.

If I were Cindy, I'd turn my head just a tee-tiny tad to the left, and...well, you get the picture.

March 8, 2006

It's International Women's Day. Do you know where YOUR blog is?

(First of all, to everyone visiting here on Blog Against Sexism Day--welcome! Enjoy the blog, feel free to bookmark and link as you like.--'Bina.)

A couple of years ago, on International Women's Day, my brother happened to ask me, rather snarkily, "So, when's International Men's Day?" To which I replied, quite seriously, "Every other day."

I didn't mean alternating days; I meant the remaining 364 days of the year.

Actually, according to my calendars (including the iCal on my PowerBook), it's all 365. Standard calendars don't list International Women's Day at all. They do, however, mark commercial holidays (Mother's Day, inapplicable to unmaternal me) and obscure British religious holidays. (What the hell is Mothering Sunday? And do we really need two mothers' days--one for the church, and one for the shopkeepers? Anyway, even Mother's Day is still in some sense a man's day, because you can't become a mother without at least a sperm donation from some man--and until we figure out a way to commit human parthenogenesis, that's unlikely to change.) What with the calendars all overlooking it so consistently, a day historically dedicated to women's general strikes for peace, equality and justice just too easily and too often slips my mind. I bet it slips yours, too.

Isn't that always the way of it? Thanks to a bunch of British churchmen and the ignorance of the calendar industry, we're more likely to remember the oddball date of St. Swithin's Day than that March 8 is the day we fair ladies are supposed to get all uppity for the sake of global social change.

And then, too, there's the dilemma of women like me, who aren't conventionally employed. I'm a freelancer. How the hell do I go on strike? Against whom? And what kind of protest should I mount, all by my lonesome, in such a way as to make it meaningful (and myself not ridiculous)? I live in a small town, where protest marches are seldom seen. I did go on one here, against Gulf War II, in February 2003. It felt less like a protest and more like an affirmation, though, since the cops cordoned off the street so we could march in safety, and our local Member of Parliament addressed the rally at the town hall, letting us know that we had the Prime Minister onside, trying--futilely, as it turned out--to talk some sense into Dubya.

And that was, honest to Goddess, the last time I marched or rallied here, or anywhere. In some ways, it's a mark of how fortunate I am to be living here that there is so little left to mount mass protests for--or against. We've had full abortion rights in Canada since 1988, when massive pro-choice marches (of which, yes, I was a part) convinced the Supreme Court to strike down our last existing abortion law as unconstitutional. Since then, there's been no new one and very little interest in creating one; something like three-quarters of us are pro-choice almost by default. We don't have a near-theocracy here, as they do in the States.

And it seems highly unlikely that we ever will have one; we're more multicultural and less monocultural than our neighbors to the south, and most of us like it fine that way. Sure, we get the odd old grump here complaining, say, that devout Sikhs shouldn't be allowed to wear turbans with their RCMP uniforms or carry kirpans to school because "this is a Christian country", but those grumps are odd. And old. Undoubtedly it's for their benefit that the calendars still mark St. Swithin's Day; the rest of us have moved on to a more secular view of the world, in which it's a strictly private matter as to whether you choose to recognize St. Swithin or not. Religious freedom is fully realized here; the right of one religion to lord it over others, however, is another story (which chaps the would-be theocrats' arses no end.)

So here I am, all dressed up for the protest rally--and with noplace to go and not a lot to protest for or against. Should I still care about International Women's Day, or just fuck it?

As it is, I still care. And I want to contribute in my own small way, even if I don't have the stomach for marching all alone with a homemade placard protesting the still-endemic sexism in society and our calendars. So, here is my contribution: a blog entry, which I'll close with a true story illustrating why women's rights still matter and must be fought for everywhere and never taken for granted, even by one so fortunate as myself:

In 1992, I had what I'll call a pregnancy scare. My period was more than a day late, and I was feeling tired, woozy and wobbly all the time. The ground seemed to undulate under my feet at irregular, unpredictable intervals; I was chronically unsteady and constantly reaching out to brace myself.

A co-worker in the fabric store where I worked part-time had recently gotten pregnant with her first child, and when I heard her describing, joyfully, how it felt, a wave of nausea washed over me.

I was 25 and unmarried. I had one yet-to-be used university degree under my belt, plus a lot of vague hopes and dreams not even crystallized, never mind realized.

Did I love my boyfriend? Yes, although I suspect now that I didn't love him as much as he loved me.

Did I want to marry him? No.

Did I want "his" child? Hell, no!

So there I was--period late, scared shitless, and without a clue as to what I should do next.

I told my mom about the wobbly spells, and the first thing she asked me, point-blank, was, "Are you pregnant?"

I shuddered. "God, I hope not!"

My mother looked at me in horror and made some noises about how I really should have waited until I was married before doing that.

I laughed a little, feeling sick--wasn't it several years too late for that lecture? And then I excused myself, and that was the end of that.

I was on the Pill, which I took faithfully, never missing a dose. But I was only too aware that for one or two women in every hundred every year, even the Pill, taken religiously, can fail. I knew right down to the day when I should expect my period, and it hadn't come. And I had no intention of marrying, ever; I couldn't even see myself in a wedding dress, never mind as a Mrs. Anybody. And to cap it all: hadn't the times changed such that it shouldn't raise any eyebrows if I lived by my own choice--even in this conservative little town?

But there still was one choice that would raise eyebrows if anyone ever found out, and it was the one I hesitated to even think of making. Still, it had to be done, and better sooner than later. Every day counts if there's a chance that you might be pregnant.

So that same day, after I got off work in the afternoon, I bought a pregnancy test kit at a drugstore in a nearby mall. And, in a mall-washroom cubicle, I opened it with shaking hands. Then I urinated on the stick, as per the very simple instructions.

The five minutes I waited for my result were the longest of my life, and the most frightening.

And this, mind you, even though I'd suffered a broken pelvis in a car accident at 14, and spent what were probably several hours without any painkillers, wondering if I were going to die! But I had survived the broken pelvis. It hadn't changed me in any essential way that I could think of. But as I waited to see whether the indicator window of the little pee-stick in my hand showed a purple line or not, my entire being suddenly hung in the balance.

I weighed my options and discovered that I did not like any of them. But abortion was the one I disliked least, and so abortion it would be, if it came to that. And oh, how I prayed it would not come to that.

The allotted time ticked past. I turned the stick over...

No purple line.

A breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding whooshed out of me in one great gust. I stuck the stick back in its package, and stuffed the whole mess into the napkin-disposal box on the cubicle wall, grinning a little shakily at the irony of what I'd just done. I walked out into the sun feeling, if not a whit steadier, at least several pounds lighter.

The next day, my period came. And I was glad to see it, never gladder in all my life.

I never found out what was causing my wonky spells; after a while, they went away spontaneously. I went on to journalism school in 1994, eventually earning a second degree. I'm still happily unmarried and child-free by choice.

Happy Women's Day to all, and to all a good fight.

Going down with the ship

Dubya and Karl go down with the ship

March 7, 2006

Mexico: sneak preview for America's future

Hey, Americans...wanna know where your country's headed under BushCo, NAFTA, the NRA, the whole shebang? Clicky-clicky...but you'll no likey:

In an overwhelmingly Catholic country, abortion is illegal in Mexico unless the woman concerned was raped.

However, according to the report, many women are still denied safe abortions even if their pregnancy was a result of this crime.

Pregnant rape victims are intimidated, insulted and threatened.

For example, some public prosecutors have told rape victims that having an abortion would kill them.

Human Rights Watch likens this to a second assault.

It says rape victims may feel reluctant to approach prosecutors for fear of being humiliated or thought to be reporting a rape in order to get an abortion.

"That humiliation drives over 90% of women away from ever even reporting their rape. And as a result, without reporting the rape, they're not entitled to an abortion," says executive director, Kenneth Roth.

The report says that this forces many into having backroom abortions at great risk to their health.

Of course, abortion is but one front in an overall downhill slide. Mexico presents several others as well: degradation of the environment, decline in wages and living standards, and of course, human rights violations coming out the wazoo in all directions. Sell your human rights down the Rio Grande, and guess what, America...

...YOU'RE MEXICO!

Walph Weed--oooo, what a hippatwit!

The Reverse Midas Touch moveth on, and having writ,

Proves all that's touched by Abramoff turns to shit.

(Okay, so it doesn't quite scan. Cut me some slack, it's late.)

Ralph Reed has said he didn't know it until last year, but emails suggest he was informed that eLot — a firm then in the online lottery business — was behind his effort to fend off a ban against internet gambling in 2000.

The e-mails passed between Reed and Jack Abramoff, the now disgraced Washington lobbyist. Abramoff was lobbying for eLot Inc. of Connecticut, parent company of eLottery Inc., against a bill in Congress that would have banned most online betting. ELottery opposed the bill because it wanted to help states sell tickets online.

Reed, a lifelong opponent of gambling, said last year that he did not know in 2000 he was actually working on behalf of eLottery.

But e-mails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show Reed was offered the name of the company at the beginning of his involvement in the campaign, in May 2000. The e-mails emerged as dozens of federal investigators have increased their focus on events surrounding the defeat of the Internet gaming ban.

Abramoff included the company's name — referring to "the elot project" — in an e-mail he forwarded to Reed, as the two worked out details of Reed's contract for the campaign.

A spokesman for Reed, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said the e-mail does not contradict Reed's earlier statements that he did not know eLot, or eLottery, was financing the gambling fight. Campaign manager Jared Thomas declined to discuss the apparent inconsistency of Reed's earlier statements and the date of the "elot" e-mail.

Another e-mail exchange written only months after the gambling ban was defeated suggests that, much earlier than Reed implied last year, he knew of Abramoff's ties to elottery.

In the Jan. 30, 2001, e-mail, Reed teased Abramoff when the lobbyist asked about the White House's choice for a new "technology czar."

"Tell your elottery friends that the next czar will be an anti-gambling [Pentecostal] Christian whose main interest in life is banning smut from the Internet," Reed wrote.

I'm tellin' ya, Clem, it's the choirboy-lookin' ones you gotta watch out for.

Next up: Ralph Reed linked to Internet porn.

March 6, 2006

For those in need of a Monday smile...

Oh, this is so Brokeback.

I mean, what could be better than six hot cowboys?

Shaking their booties?

To Elvis?

On SKATES?

Well...the ending of this clip sure could be. Heh, heh, heh.

(And they say women aren't visual? HA!)

Things that make Pickles jealous

Seen in India lately:

Is Dubya checking out Condi's butt?

After being inflamed with desire by the sight of Auntie Condi's aerobicized butt, Dubya moves on to some serious oral action...

He looks like he enjoys it!

...with a water buffalo who's not ashamed to do for him what Monica did for Bill Clinton.

Whatever will Pickles say?

March 5, 2006

Boycott this 'toon, part 6

From the Department of Exploding Wingnut Heads:

How Far is Too Far?

Finally, Tom Cruise wins what he deserves...

A Razzie. What else?

Twenty-four hours before the Oscars, Tom Cruise has suffered the ignominy of being awarded a Razzie - at a ceremony marking Hollywood's worst moments.

He won the award for "most tiresome tabloid target" for his "antics with fiancee Katie Holmes".

[...]

The "most tiresome" category was introduced this year to salute "the celebs we're all sick and tired of".

In the "most tiresome tabloid target" Tom Cruise won ahead of... Tom Cruise - also nominated for attacking psychiatry and anti-depressant drugs in a TV interview.

Care for a little Prozac with your award, Tom?

Soy loco por ti, Simon Bolivar?

At last, my suspicions can be laid to rest--the provenance of the tune for Vila Isabel's winning samba (in the Rio carnival) is revealed:

According to percussionist and composer, Jose Carlos Capinan, the chorus, title and even the samba beat was composed by himself and current Brazilian Culture Minister Gilberto Gil in 1967.

Capinan says he has sent a letter, complaining of copyright infringement to the Samba school and the Venezuelan government.

"The success should be shared because the song was composed in special circumstances under the dictatorship ... now we can be open in a Carnival ... not then."

Capinan reveals that Gil put music to the words on the day Che Guevara was killed, October 9, 1967.

Kind of a shame about the infringement, which I'm sure was not meant as anything but a fond tribute; let's hope they get that sorted out soon. With Gilberto Gil as the Brazilian culture minister, it might well happen faster than otherwise.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the original lyrics on Gil's website. You'll notice that they alternate between Spanish and Portuguese. Kind of surreal, too: who is "el hombre muerto"? An intuitive foreshadowing of the death of Che, perhaps?

March 4, 2006

Headline howler: Bush praises Pakistan terror role

Seen on the Beeb.

And considering that the Pak-Afghan border region (both sides of it) is a notorious breeding ground for terrorism, and that the Taliban would never have gotten anywhere without Pakistani support (particularly from dictator-president Musharraf)--well, that headline is just unfortunate on so many levels.

But then again, considering how much Bush has benefited from terrorism--maybe his praise isn't so surprising after all.

Harper can dish out the ethics, but he can't take 'em

Oh, boo hoo. Poor Stephen Harper. Barely in office a month, and already he's got the ethics watchdog snapping and snarling at him. From the Toronto Star:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attacking the legitimacy of the federal ethics watchdog after he announced an investigation of Harper's conduct recruiting David Emerson to the Conservative cabinet.

In a letter made public yesterday, Bernard Shapiro said he has decided to embark on a preliminary investigation into whether Harper complied with the conflict-of-interest code for MPs when he brought Emerson, who had just been re-elected as a Liberal, into the Tory fold.

Shapiro's decision prompted new criticism that Harper is ignoring his vow to practise more ethical, accountable politics.

"Mr. Ethics himself is now under investigation by the ethics commissioner," crowed Liberal MP Wayne Easter, one of three opposition MPs who asked Shapiro to look into the events surrounding Emerson's unexpected emergence as Conservative trade minister.

But in a surprising move, Harper's office responded by trying to discredit the ethics commissioner, who was named to his post by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

"This guy's got a real pattern of attacking Conservative MPs and not Liberal MPs," said Sandra Buckler, Harper's director of communications.

She suggested the latest investigation has persuaded Harper he has to get rid of Shapiro.

"This Liberal appointee's actions have strengthened the Prime Minister's resolve to create a truly non-partisan Ethics Commissioner, who is accountable to Parliament," she wrote in an email.

Buckler also argued that, since the Emerson affair happened when Parliament wasn't in session, Shapiro has no right to investigate.

In his letter to House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, Shapiro said he will also investigate the actions of Emerson.

"Although the subject of this inquiry is the Prime Minister, given that the actions of Messrs. Harper and Emerson in this incident were intertwined, questions will no doubt be raised during the course of the preliminary inquiry on the conduct of Mr. Emerson as well."

The Commons conflict-of-interest code bars any MP from trying to induce another MP to take a course of action to further his or her private interests.

Emerson, the former Liberal industry minister, set off an angry reaction among Liberal supporters in his Vancouver-Kingsway riding when he was sworn in as a Conservative cabinet minister on Feb. 6.

Explaining that sequence of events, Harper told reporters on that day that he felt Emerson had served the Liberals well in cabinet.

"Obviously that service (was) over," Harper continued, "so I decided to call him and suggest that I thought his talents would be best used on the government benches rather than in opposition ... I'm pleased that he accepted that offer."

Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill), another Liberal who wrote to Shapiro, said that if the commissioner finds that the Prime Minister or Emerson breached the MPs' code, "I think the steps would have to be resignation."

New Democrat MP Peter Julian, who also requested an investigation by Shapiro, said the whole affair is a sign that, when it comes to ethical behaviour, Harper's Conservatives are no different from Martin's team.

"This is a wake-up call on the first few weeks of his government and the fact that he has governed, in my mind, exactly the way the Liberals governed."

And here he promised us change. Good thing I voted for the NDP, and not this clown.

And isn't this just so typical of how conservatives, big C or small, operate? They make political hay out of their opponents' ethical lapses while expecting the rest of us to ignore theirs, which are every bit as glaring. (What was it Jesus said again about not picking at a speck in your neighbor's eye when there's a big ol' plank in your own? Something like that.)

Another typical conservative trait: shooting at the messenger, instead of taking the message to heart. Instead of accepting the ethics commissioner's verdict, the Conservatives are now attacking and smearing the ethics commissioner for daring to criticize them! How ethical is that?

No wonder Benjamin Disraeli said, "A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy."

CITGO hits back at swiftboaters

Remember how CITGO is undergoing a concerted effort by BushCo's lackeys to swiftboat it? Well, this response is EXCELLENT:

HOUSTON --- CITGO Petroleum Corporation today responded to a request for information from U.S. Reps. Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield regarding the company's discounted heating oil program. CITGO has indicated that the company will attempt to provide the information requested by the congressmen. The full text of the letter follows:

* * *

February 17, 2006

Hon. Joe Barton,

Chairman, The Committee on Commerce and Energy

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515-6155

Hon. Ed Whitfield,

Chairman, The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

The Committee on Commerce and Energy

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515-6155

Dear Congressmen Barton and Whitfield:

CITGO Petroleum Corporation acknowledges receipt of your letter, dated February 15, 2006, requesting information about CITGO's discount heating oil program for low-income people. CITGO initiated this program as a continuation of CITGO's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when heating oil prices began to increase. CITGO's interest in a discount heating oil program for low-income people began about the same time as a request from a number of United States Senators asking energy companies to provide heating oil assistance to low-income people.

CITGO's discount heating oil program to low-income people has been implemented through existing charities that historically have provided low-cost heating oil to low-income people. These charities select the recipients of the program.

CITGO shall attempt to comply with your request. We expect to be able to answer your questions and to provide you with copies of all records pertaining to the discount heating oil program in CITGO's possession but it will take longer than a week. CITGO should be able to provide such copies to you within 30 days.

Sincerely,

Félix M. Rodríguez

President & CEO

cc: Hon. John D. Dingell, Ranking Member

Hon. Bart Stupak, Ranking Member

Andrew L. Snowdon, Oversight and Investigations Counsel

And on a related note, there seems to be another rogue element at work around CITGO--one with a blatantly partisan slant, according to journalist and documentary filmmaker Harry Minetree (here, in an excerpt from Minetree's open letter to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez):

In July 2004, Luis Marin summoned me to CITGO's Tulsa headquarters to discuss the production of a documentary film on the August referendum. If I were to accept the job, Mr. Marin said my mission would be "...to find the truth and film it." Nothing more. Nothing less.

He offered me US$30,000 to cover crew salaries, equipment rentals and expenses for a two-week shoot. My personal fee for two months producing and promoting the film would be $120,000 US. I would also receive "a significant bonus" for providing Mr. Marin with an introduction to Bill Clinton.

The $30,000 would be paid in cash increments through the Houston law firm of Robert G. Taylor, who would be reimbursed by CITGO. Mr. Taylor, who was present at the meeting, had dictated the written agreement on which Mr. Marin's proposal to me was based. Ray Nava, an associate of Mr. Marin's, would deliver US cash to me in Caracas. Nava was also present at the Tulsa meeting.

Mr. Marin added that he would arrange for me to have an exclusive, on-camera interview with you, Mr. President. He gave me the phone number of a contact in Caracas -- a fine young man named Umberto or Gilberto.

I agreed to Mr. Marin's terms, and we shook hands all around. Afterwards, I flew to Houston with Robert Taylor in his Learjet. Mr. Taylor gave me a letter introducing me as an investigator for his law firm, and $9,500 cash -- the first of the three promised payments for production financing.

In Caracas, I hired a crew and started shooting immediately -- interviews in barrios, at sidewalk cafes, salsa clubs, shopping malls, nightclubs, etc. We traveled to the beaches where the working class swim, and to the private bathing clubs frequented by the Opposition. We toured the wealthy residential areas, then went to your hometown, Mr. President, where we interviewed one of your teachers, your high school baseball coach, and several friends and admirers. Back in Caracas, we did a wonderful interview with an old-line communist actor, Julio Mota; another with a hardline critic of your administration, Patricia Poleo. Luis Marin and Robert Taylor were informed daily of our progress.

Meanwhile, I was in constant contact with Gilberto who, unfortunately, was making little progress arranging an interview with you. Eventually, Luis directed me to Andres Izarra -- who returned none of my calls and answered none of my emails.

Ray Nava delivered the first cash payment to my apartment. There were problems, he said. He appeared to be high on something, possibly cocaine. Ray offered to lend me a pistol. Then he offered to give me his young girlfriend for sexual purposes. He said everyone knew that "Chavez" had rigged the referendum vote; it was all a fraud. He said Luis Marin would be fired soon. Then he offered to introduce me to some Senators who knew the "real story" and to a "well informed" anti-Chavez writer. I told Nava to get the hell out of my apartment and not to come back. Later that evening, he phoned and threatened me. I said I would meet him in the street -- he lived nearby. I waited; he didn't appear.

The following day, I phoned Luis Marin and recounted my conversation with Ray Nava. Marin said he would take care of everything.

That was the last I heard from anyone. I received no more money, and there was no explanation why. Luis Marin refused to take my calls or to respond to my emails. I owed the crew, I owed rent. I was owed personal expenses and, if this was indeed the end of the project, CITGO had breached our contract and owed me $131,000, including the unpaid production money.

I later learned that Ray Nava had implied to Luis that I worked for the CIA; he said my crew and I had filmed nothing. The facts are that we had shot seven hours of terrific footage. And I had pre-sold the film to CNN, contingent on the interview with you. Ray Nava also told Luis and Rob Taylor that the crew and I were spending production money on liquor and teenage whores, implying, once again, that we were hobnobbing with Opposition big shots!

Since then, Mr. President, I have met with Ambassador Alvarez, spoken and exchanged emails with Fernando Garay, Mr. Kabboul and Martin Sanchez. No one among them questioned that CITGO had breached our contract (Mr. Garay said there was no record of it). But no one called back after our discussions, and no one has done anything toward settling this matter.

Indeed, Robert Taylor washed his hands of the entire situation when Ray Nava told him, Mr. President, that he is your illegitimate son! If this is true, sir, I must commend you on your precocious talent as a lover, since you could not have been more than six years old when little Ray was conceived!

There you have it, Gentle Reader...your daily dose of belly-laughs. Courtesy of what appears to be a veritable fountain of useless disinformation going by the name of Ray Nava.

BTW, I googled for more on Ray Nava and found nothing that appeared even halfway relevant. An international man of mystery, he seems to be.

Whoever this Nava creep is, he's certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to smear Hugo Chavez in particular, claiming to be Chavez's illegitmate son (a blatantly ridiculous charge, if Minetree's calculations are correct; in any event, a blatantly ridiculous charge.)

I wouldn't be surprised if an investigator following the money on this guy found the slimy trail leading all the way back to Washington...by way of Miami and Texas.

Anyhow, nice job, swiftboaters! Thanks for saving journalists the trouble of discrediting you. You do a damn fine job of that yourselves. May you go on shooting yourselves in the feet for years to come!

PS: Connecticut has become the latest state to sign on to CITGO's cut-rate oil program for the poor--over the objections of the right-wing governor. Mad props to state attorney general for good sense.

March 3, 2006

Oh, this is PATHETIC.

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then what is piety? I don't know, but I bet Toady Blair does:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told how he prayed to God when deciding whether or not to send UK troops to Iraq.

Mr Blair answered "yes" when asked on ITV1 chat show Parkinson - to be screened on Saturday - if he had sought holy intervention on the issue.

"Of course, you struggle with your own conscience about it... and it's one of these situations that, I suppose, very few people ever find themselves in."

Anti-war campaigners attacked Mr Blair's comments as "a joke".

Mr Blair told show host Michael Parkinson: "In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people... and if you believe in God, it's made by God as well."

"When you're faced with a decision like that, some of those decisions have been very, very difficult, most of all because you know these are people's lives and, in some case, their deaths.

"The only way you can take a decision like that is to do the right thing according to your conscience."

Anti-war campaigner Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in Basra in 2004, said: "A good Christian wouldn't be for this war.

"I'm actually quite disgusted by the comments. It's a joke."

Nuh-nuh-nuh-no. THIS is a joke:

Tony, where are your trousers?

What Toady did, though, is just abject and pathetic...like the lame excuses he's made for it ever since.

Religion may cover a multitude of sins, but a bare ass isn't one of them.

Quotable: Oriah Mountain Dreamer on creativity

"Over and over again our creative work saves us from forgetting what matters, from our focused productivity and our well-laid plans, from the certainty that we know what is best, that we can make things come out the way we think they should with hard work and harder resolve. Creative work saves us from the smaller self, the self that looks at the world with a tight-lipped, narrow-eyed determination, the self that turns away from softness and life-sustaining idleness, from the silence and stillness where stories and music and images, where necessary wisdom and unearned blessings, find us."

--Oriah Mountain Dreamer, What We Ache For

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Simon Bolivar goes to Rio

Woo-hoo! Congratulations are in order to Hugo Chavez and PDVSA for scoring a major, MAJOR victory:

The annual parade competition at Brazil's famous Rio de Janeiro carnival has been won by a samba group largely funded by the Venezuelan government.

The Vila Isabel group, which was declared the winner after a dance-off, had Latin American unity as its theme.

Vila Isabel's president, Wilson Moises Alves, thanked Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA, for its funding.

PDVSA will not say how much money was involved, but reports estimate its donation at more than $500,000.

It is Vila Isabel's second carnival victory, following on from a win in 1988.

The Vila Isabel procession featured floats showcasing the brotherhood of Latin Americans, including a huge effigy of Simon Bolivar and a 1960s anthem dedicated to the left, called I'm Crazy About You, America.

Local media said the samba school had invited Mr Chavez to the street party, but he had declined.

In lieu of more Chavecito pics (though those would be nice, too), here's the winning school's float--showcasing Simon Bolivar in all his noble glory:

Pic #1 Pic #2 Pic #3

Just beautiful.

For those who can read Spanish, enjoy Lubrio's posts on it, here and here. Also see his explanation of the various parts of the parade, here.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition--never ones to let a good deed go unpunished--are kvetching their asses off:

One opposition hard-line group is accusing Venezuela President Hugo Chavez Frias of squandering public monies and will ask the Attorney General to open an investigation.

Sophisticated Grand Dame columnist, Marianella Salazar rants about the degrading spectacle of an image of Simon Bolivar portrayed with a heart in his hand.

Columnist Nelson Bocaranda says the Vila Isabel (Mad for You, America) parade was ignored by the public and complains about advert spots promoting Venezuela as a tourist venue during the TV coverage of the parade.

I fail to see what's so "degrading" about it--the Bolivar float was breathtaking.

And seeing as the whole world now knows who the winner is, it's hard to believe that it's going unnoticed. Especially in the realm of travel and tourism, where Venezuela is seeing strong--and well deserved--growth.

But then, I'm sure these people would love nothing more than to get the palmy old days of corruption and neglect back--after all, how do you think they got so damn rich? No wonder it kills them to see PDVSA money going toward a deserving samba school that put on a terrific show, celebrated Latin American unity and culture, and won on the basis of indisputable merit. In the old days, they would have pocketed that money themselves and not given a damn--or a dime--to anyone else, however worthy.

March 2, 2006

Quotable: Starhawk on ecology

"Our culture is afflicted with a vast disconnection, an abyss of ignorance that becomes apparent whenever an issue invoking the natural world arises. As a society, we are daily making decisions and setting policies that have enormous repercussions on the natural world. And those policies are being set by officials and approved by a public who are functionally eco-illiterate.

"I was once giving a talk at a university about the need for earth-based spirituality, when I was stopped by a student with a question that stunned me.

"'Tell me,' the young man asked, 'why is the earth important?'

"I almost didn't know what to say. I bit back a snide retort--'What planet do you live on?'--and realized with horror that he was quite serious, that somehow all his years of higher education and graduate school had not taught him that we are utterly dependent on the earth for our lives."

--Starhawk, The Earth Path

March 1, 2006

Grown-up creamsicle fudge

This is a divine variation on your basic vanilla fudge. Great for gift-giving, too.

3c brown sugar

1c butter

1/3c half-and-half cream

1/3c Triple Sec (or other orange liqueur--USE THE EXPENSIVE STUFF!)

3c icing sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

grated zest of one orange

Over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk until melted. Heat until it starts to bubble, once it's boiling, let it go for six minutes on medium heat.

Turn the heat off and add the icing sugar, orange zest and vanilla, stirring rapidly until smooth. Pour into a 9-inch square pan and let chill. Cut into squares just before fudge is completely hard.

Who's guarding YOUR henhouse?

Bizarro Fox

Quotable: George Orwell on propaganda

"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp."

--George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Chavecito shoots for the stars

Mi hombre is blinding me with science again. From the Beeb:

Venezuelan scientists are going to China to begin work on Venezuela's first satellite - the first step on the way to a national space programme.

President Hugo Chavez has earmarked around $0.5bn (£287m) to get the space agency off the ground in 2007.

The 30 scientists will be joined by another 60 next year to build the satellite along with China.

Venezuela's government hopes to use it to broadcast many of its own radio and TV programmes throughout Latin America.

The Simon Bolivar satellite, named after the Venezuelan independence hero, is supposed to be launched into space by August 2008.

Mr Chavez wants the satellite to be blasted into orbit from a Venezuelan launch pad.

The leftwing president is using part of his country's oil wealth to become a member of an elite club of nations which have their own space programmes.

The Venezuela government intends to put several satellites into space, some of which will be used for geological surveys of the Earth.

Venezuela's military will play a key role in the space programme and so the satellites could eventually be used to gather intelligence.

But the government's critics appear to be more concerned with the cost.

A presidential candidate from the opposition recently said he welcomed Venezuela's foray into space but only if the government started tackling more basic problems such as creating jobs.

Oh, give us a break. Those people were never so concerned about job creation before, or they'd have done something during the 40 years of uninterrupted power they enjoyed under the infamous Punto Fijo pact. This money going into space is only a bad thing because it's not going into their pockets!