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June 30, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Another gratuitous Hugo Chavez pic

I just thought I'd run this up the flagpole and see who saluted...

Hugo Chavez salutes YOU!

June 29, 2006

Another Liberal not worthy of the name

You can always tell who the cynical power-jockeys are up here in the Great North. They gravitate to the party most likely to get them elected, even when they have little or nothing in common with the values implicit in the party name. These infiltrators are almost laughably transparent, but it's never stopped any of them from trying it yet, even when they get their pee-pees whacked by their constituents in the end.

Take the once-dominant Liberals (please!). There used to be a sub-group within the party calling themselves "Liberals for Life", even though they were neither. What they should have called themselves was Closet Conservatives Against Choice, which is a far less catchy thing to call oneself, and also far less likely to get votes. But at least then, they'd have been honest. What I don't understand is why they weren't in the Tories all along, since their ideology would have fit and then they'd have been in power, where they could have wrought a helluva lot more havoc. (Plus, in the end, they'd have gone down a bit earlier on the same ship with their ideological soulmates instead of continuing to infest an already rat-ridden-enough party.)

There's a reason I'm bringing this up. Here it is:

On June 21st, Parliament saw first reading of a private member's bill by Liberal MP Paul Steckle to re-criminalize abortion. Bill C-338, "An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (procuring a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation)", would restrict later abortions performed after twenty weeks.

The bill would allow exceptions to save the woman's life and "to prevent severe pathological physical morbidity of the woman." Otherwise, anyone who "uses any means or permits any means to be used" to perform an abortion past 20 weeks would be subject to penalties of a prison term of up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

Now, this is a bill straight out of the Dark Ages, and which takes a rather large leaf from the US anti-choice movement in terms of attempting to drive a wedge into an issue best left alone. Certainly nobody even calling himself a Liberal (capital L or small) should espouse something so heinous. Five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $100,000? Gee, why not clap all "showing" pregnant women in leg irons and chain them to their beds right away, with an armed guard watching to make sure they don't try to stick a knitting needle up their wazoos?

Straight Goods goes on to reassure us that this doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell. Well, I should hope to shout:

While this bill is very disturbing on several levels — not the least of which is the criminalizing of women's healthcare — let's keep in mind that private member's bills like this are unlikely to get very far. Parliament still has a pro-choice majority. Even in the unlikely event it ever came to a vote, such a blatantly anti-choice bill would not pass. And since Parliament rose for the summer the very next day (June 22), nothing will happen until at least the fall.

Phew. That's a relief.

But then we get this:

However, this bill is significant in that it is the first private member's bill to directly attack abortion rights by attempting to return abortion to the Criminal Code. Also, it's an obvious cynical ploy by the "Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus" — made up primarily of Conservative MPs — to get around Harper's promise not to legislate on abortion.

Ghaaaah! The Old Cynical Anti-Choice Ploy once more rears its warty head. Will that ugly thing never die? Canada's been without any criminal abortion laws since 1988, people! And most of us are cool with that and don't want it changed, EVER.

Of course, when it comes to cynical, Harpo's an old hand at it himself. He wants to "re-open the debate" (what debate???) on not only abortion, but same-sex marriage. Someone, please, hit that man with a clue-by-four and remind him that there's a reason he only has a parliamentary minority: MOST CANADIANS VOTED AGAINST HIM. He does not have the political capital necessary to do such things, and even if he did, it would all rebound on him most disastrously.

Why?

Well, let's just return to the Straight Goods article at hand and let it speak for itself:

We have a baseline against which to measure whether a woman's right to choose is being rolled back.

That baseline shows that eighteen years after the historic Morgentaler decision, Canadian women still face challenges with realizing choice, in particular with access to abortion services. A recent national study of access to abortion services at hospitals across Canada found that:

--only 17.8 of all general hospitals in Canada perform abortions, with some jurisdictions, such as Prince Edward Island and Nunavut, offering no hospital abortion services at all;

--even hospitals providing abortions place obstacles in the way of women trying to obtain one, including restrictive gestational limits and long wait times (sometimes 2-3 weeks);

--in many cases, hospital employees are not able to provide women with information about alternative resources;

--physicians and hospital employees deny women access by refusing information and referrals, or by referring women to anti-choice agencies; and

--many women have to travel significant distances to obtain abortion services, which is time consuming, expensive and conflicts with work and child care.

As you can see, simply being without an abortion law doesn't exactly give Canadian women untrammelled abortion rights or easy access. And as any woman can tell you who's decided to have an abortion, only to have trouble gaining access to what is her legal right, the last thing anyone needs is one more obstacle in the way, let alone one so gruesomely punitive.

And the crowning indignity? This is a fine example of how to swat a mosquito with a sledgehammer:

As the only democratic country in the world with no legal restrictions against abortion, Canada serves as a valuable model for other countries. In the eighteen years since the Supreme Court declared our abortion law unconstitutional, we've shown that a lack of laws actually leads to earlier and safer abortions. In Canada, about 90 percent of abortions are done by 12 weeks, and about 97 percent by 16 weeks. This is a better record than in the US, where numerous legal restrictions serve mainly to delay abortions and increase the medical risk. Moreover, Canadian women have almost one-third fewer abortions than American women, and at rates comparable to countries in western Europe. Canada also enjoys one of the lowest maternal mortality and complication rates for abortion in the world.

Abortion restrictions in other liberal countries are holdovers from the days of criminal abortion or recent products of religious ideology. Not only do such laws fail to reduce abortions, they also have many negative consequences. They institutionalize the stigma of abortion and foster prejudice against any woman who needs one. They marginalize abortion outside the healthcare system and remove medical discretion from doctors, giving it to lawmakers instead. Physicians should never work under the threat of criminal prosecution simply for providing medical care.

Anti-abortionists frequently say that because Canada has no laws against abortion, women are having them right up to the point of delivery. That is pure poppycock. In Canada, less than 0.4 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks gestation, almost all because of serious fetal or maternal health problems. Only a handful of providers in Canada are trained and willing to do such procedures.

Emphasis added.

So this law would only be directed at 0.4 percent of abortions, virtually all of which would meet its own criteria for medical necessity anyway? Wow! Someone, please, tell me--what was the reason for introducing this ridiculous bill again?

Never mind--I think I know. And I don't know what's more cynical: using a party to winkle one's way into power, or using that power to winkle one's way into the parts of a woman's body that are none of anyone else's damn business.

June 27, 2006

A most literary funeral

It's the stuff of a Gothic romance writer's dreams: A loving and famous couple, parted by death and grief, are reunited in the grave more than a century later.

No, it's not fiction. Read on:

The remains of the wife of 19th Century US writer Nathaniel Hawthorne have been reburied next to those of the author, after more than a century apart.

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne left the US with her children after her husband's death in 1864. She went to England, where she died six years later.

Her remains and those of daughter Una were exhumed from a London cemetery, after their plot fell into disrepair.

One of Nathaniel Hawthorne's best known works was the novel The Scarlet Letter.

Maintenance of the plot in Kensal Green cemetery in north-west London was paid for by a Catholic order, the New York-based Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, which was founded by the Hawthornes' daughter, Rose.

Last winter, a hawthorn tree fell onto the already damaged graves and the order decided to have the remains reburied in the family plot in Concord in Massachussetts.

The ceremony at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord was attended by some 40 descendants of the Hawthorne family.

A single casket containing the remains of both mother and daughter was carried through the town centre on a horse-drawn 1860 wooden hearse, believed to have also carried the coffin of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

"It's greatly significant to see the family reunited," said Alison Hawthorne Deming, 59, Hawthorne's great-great-granddaughter.

"It's also great to get together different parts of the heritage. It's a beautiful celebration for us - it's not something we imagined happening," she said.

Historians have described the relationship between husband and wife as passionate.

"It was a great love story. It was one of the premier marriages in American literature," said Philip McFarland, author of Hawthorne In Concord.

Mr McFarland said much of what was known of the Hawthornes' relationship came from about 1,500 letters written by Sophia.

"It's a misfortune that they were separated in death," he said. "It's very satisfying to anyone who knows the story of the Hawthorne marriage that they're being reunited for eternity."

The funeral of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne took place in fitting style, with a horse-drawn 1860s hearse conveying her coffin to the Sleepy Hollow cemetery known as "Author's Ridge". There, she rejoins not only her late husband, but also the great Henry David Thoreau and the redoubtable Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as famous father and daughter Bronson and Louisa May Alcott.

And if THAT's not romantic, I don't know what is.

The End.

June 26, 2006

Macondo remains fictitious

And meanwhile, Aracataca remains real.

The Colombian town of Aracataca, birthplace of Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, will not be renamed to honour its most famous son.

The town's mayor proposed renaming Aracataca after Macondo, the fictional setting for the writer's most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Mayor Pedro Sanchez hoped the change would bring more tourists to the town.

More than 90% of votes cast were in favour of the change, but only half the necessary 7,400 people went to vote.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, a tale of several generations of one family based around the small town of Macondo, is widely regarded as Garcia Marquez's masterpiece.

In the novel, Macondo plays host to a string of fantastic events and barely believable happenings, including an insomnia plague and four years of rain after a massacre of banana workers.

The Beeb goes on to note that Garcia Marquez moved away from there when he was nine, and has not been back there in two decades.

That reminds me of myself and my birthplace; I moved away from there shortly before my 10th birthday, and haven't been back there since I was 15 (which is now a little more than two decades ago.)

Unfortunately, unlike "Gabo", I don't feel terribly inspired to write a great work of magical realism when I think back to there; it was a rather nondescript lumbermill town in Northern Ontario. I do remember a lot of things worth mentioning about it, though: the soft, steady, cricket-hum all night of the locomotives down at the train station (which was just a few blocks down the street from my house); my favorite engine, #1310; the smell of hot metal from the railroad yards mingling with the scent of chlorine from the local pool where I learned to swim. (It was such a small town that the train station, the town park and the pool were right next to each other, in that order.) There was also a provincial park on the outskirts of it; through it ran a river with dangerous currents and high waterfalls. There was also a high trestle bridge over said river; the bridge was characterized rather dramatically in the local paper as a "death trap", for reasons that were never clear to me.

There wasn't any magic about the place, but the realism still sticks with me. I haven't written anything that's set there, and I strongly suspect that I'm not meant to. Which may be just as well, because on the off chance that I ever become famous, I wouldn't want that place to turn into a tourist trap. I'd prefer that it stay the way it was when I left it. Sort of like a backwoods Brigadoon.

June 24, 2006

What's in a face?

What's in a name?

--Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The less clear we are about "who wrote Shakespeare", the more "Shakespeare" can be idealized and indeed idolized. ... Just as "man bites dog" is a more eye-catching headline than "dog bites man", so "Oxford is Shakespeare" makes a better story than "Shakespeare is Shakespeare"--at least in some quarters. The brouhaha about any portrait is beside the point if the subject of the portrait didn't write the plays.

--Marjorie Garber, "Looking the Part" (in Shakespeare's Face, 2002)

It all began in the spring of 2001. Stephanie Nolen, a young reporter for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, was chatting on the phone with her mother. Seems the parents' up-the-street neighbor in a suburb of Ottawa, Lloyd Sullivan, was the proud heir to the only oil portrait of William Shakespeare painted in the Bard's lifetime. The modest-sized likeness, dated 1603, was rendered on oak board by one John Sanders, Lloyd Sullivan's distant ancestor. Sullivan had gone to a lot of trouble to trace the painting (which had spent many years under his invalid grandmother's bed in Montreal!) to its source. He had spent ten years and thousands of dollars to have it authenticated by the best experts in the field, and now he was finally ready to make it public. Nolen, captivated from the first moment she laid eyes on "Willy Shake", as Sullivan had dubbed the picture, was more than happy to break the news to the world. And everyone who heard the story was agog.

Why such a fuss over a little old oil painting?

Well, aside from the subject matter, there is the fact that only two undisputed images of Shakespeare exist, neither of them very distinguished. One was a rather clumsily executed engraving by Martin Droeshout, which appeared on the front of the First Folio of Shakespeare's collected works shortly after his death. The other was his tomb effigy, for which he'd posed some months before his death. In the case of both likenesses, his friends attested that they were accurate in their lineaments. But both lack character, and so give us no clues as to what kind of a man Shakespeare was. And indeed, the bust on the tomb is curiously lifeless; it shows the familiar, bald-domed Bard in a plain white collar, red doublet and black leather jerkin, with a quill pen in his right hand and a piece of parchment under his left. But there is no expression; the eyes just stare blankly into space, not engaging the viewer. Likewise, the Droeshout engraving gives us no clues as to the personality of the man; it just stares blankly out at us. There is nothing in either one to help us understand how Shakespeare lived, breathed--and above all, wrote.

Both are clearly of the same man, however, and their authenticity is beyond doubt, so they must serve as a starting point, however cold and dull, for the odyssey that follows.

The Sanders portrait, by contrast, brims with life. The sitter is 39 years old, if the date given is true and if indeed it is Shakespeare. Certainly he looks it; his hairline is receding, with a pronounced widow's peak, though he is not yet fully bald in front as in the Droeshout engraving and the tomb effigy (both of which were made later). There are soft hints of laugh lines around the blue-grey eyes, which twinkle with subtle merriment. The small mouth turns up in a gentle smile, as though he were just about to share a cracking good tale (and probably quite a bawdy one) with the viewer. "It was a rogue's face, a charmer's face that looked back at me with a tolerant, mischievous, slightly world-weary air," Nolen writes. "There was nothing austere or haughty about him, nothing of the great man being painted for posterity." Yet, as the book goes on to unravel in great detail, with biographical and technical notes along the way from several experts, this wonderfully expressive face certainly seems to be that of William Shakespeare--painted as an up-and-comer who had already made a considerable mark on his world, and who would go on to greater things still before his 52 years were up.

The book also cuts through the briarpatch of false mystique that has grown up around the man and his works over the years. Yet, even in demystifying Shakespeare, it doesn't rob us of our wonderment and delight in his art; on the contrary, it deepens our appreciation. We learn just enough about him to get a real feel for how he thought, what true-life undercurrents shaped his poems and plays. And this is necessary--not only to force us to finally stop swallowing any more horseshit that "Shakespeare wasn't really Shakespeare, he was X in disguise", but also to help us get behind the often ornate language that, for far too many students nowadays, poses a barrier. How dreadful it would be if that barrier remained unbreached; Shakespeare certainly didn't write exclusively for upper-class snobs. He wrote for everyone. The humbler characters who provided the "comic relief" in so many of his plays speak not in noble iambic pentameter, but in the prose of ordinary English, sometimes even the slang of their day. They helped to bring it all down to earth for the "groundlings" at the Globe Theatre. As Nolen asserts at the very beginning of her book, "Shakespeare knew us." Indeed he did--he knew everyone, from aristocrats like the lordling who was his earliest patron (Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton--and likeliest contender for the title of the "fair youth" to whom many of the sonnets were written), to royalty like King James I (who made Shakespeare an unpaid courtier in the same year the Sanders portrait was painted, a major coup for a social climber of the day) to the ordinary working folk from whose stock he was, in fact, descended (he was the son of a glover and probably worked in leathers himself during a lull in his artistic career). And he was equally skilled at rendering all of them, and making them so lifelike that they still speak to us today, long after the other "greats" of his age have ceased to captivate anyone but scholars and hardcore fans of Renaissance English literature--both of whom are rare birds; the latter, virtually an endangered species. It was Shakespeare's wonderful elasticity of language that inspired Anthony Burgess to create his unforgettable Alex, antihero of A Clockwork Orange, as a punk with a poet's flair. No, Shakespeare doesn't need any more ennoblers; he needs humanizers. It would therefore be a tragedy if someone did not give us a lifelike portrait of him--someone who truly knew the man who knew us all.

Happily, it turns out that the mysterious John Sanders might just be that someone. While the other pretenders to the Bard's mantle all seem to have tripped and fallen over that "ennobling" impulse, Sanders, by resisting it, has succeeded in giving us what the others could not: a fully human image of Shakespeare the man. All that the other "portraits of Shakespeare" have in common, besides their reliance on the basic template of the Droeshout engraving, is a preternatural solemnity that attempts to romanticize Shakespeare, but succeeds only in rendering him dreadfully gloomy and ultimately banal. Yet another "noble" Bard--how boring! Alas, poor Yorick--he's a fake, Horatio. Many an "authentic Shakespeare by a great master" has been unmasked as either an anachronism, or a forgery, or both. One of them turns out to be a reworked image of a Lord Mayor of London (the overpainting was eventually stripped away to reveal his coat of arms, and his true identity); others show unknown men (and in one case, a nameless boy) in attire too rich for Shakespeare's social status at the time. The devil, it turns out, really is in the details; you have to know something about the costume and portraiture of the day if you're to spot the difference between the real Willy Shake and a slew of Great Pretenders.

The Shakespeare of the Sanders painting wears a dark doublet with silver threads running through it. His collar is not the starched, lacy ruff of the Elizabethan era, but the simpler flat collar of the Jacobean, with three darts on either side to give it the characteristic, slightly flared shape that we also see, albeit much more stiffly rendered, in the Droeshout engraving. This lends accuracy in point of both social status, and the date on the portrait. The silver threads are appropriate to one like Shakespeare, who was recently elevated to the rank of courtier (but not nobleman; nobles were entitled to richer fabrics still, including cloth of gold); the collar is in keeping with the fashions of the year 1603, when King James I succeeded the late Queen Elizabeth I. Some speculate that the difference in execution between the head and the clothing means that the portrait had two painters, but I humbly submit that this textural disparity is due to nothing more than the difference between flesh and cloth! (A secondary consideration, but still worth noting, is that the likely artist was the sitter's friend, and so this portrait was taken not as a commissioned show of status on Shakespeare's part but, in the words of an inscription on another portrait of the age, "to please my frende and not my selfe." In other words: since this portrait was probably a keepsake, the costume wasn't the point; the face was, and so more attention naturally would have been dedicated to it than to the much more quickly rendered garments.)

All the signs, to my mind, point to the portrait being one of Shakespeare. The one thing the book doesn't do, alas, is definitely tell us that it IS Shakespeare. All the experts back away from that notion at the end, which is disappointing but predictable. After all, they are scholars with hard-won reputations to uphold; how would it look if they blew it all to endorse a portrait which, while definitely of the era and definitely showing a man who could so easily have been Shakespeare, turns out not to be him? What if it's some other player from the same company that Shakespeare and Sanders both performed in? What if it's not even that, but just a well-executed picture of a charming rogue who shall henceforth remain forever nameless?

Well, not being a Shakespeare scholar with a reputation to uphold, I will say what they won't: I think it really is him. The clothes, the hair, the face, the expression--they all tally with his biographical details and the milieus he moved in. This man would probably get a kick out of hearing his likeness dubbed "Willy Shake"; knowing Shakespeare, he'd probably have a good half-dozen naughty witticisms lined up and ready to go. He was, after all, the man who wrote this:

WHOEVER hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,'

And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in over-plus;

More than enough am I that vex'd thee still,

To thy sweet will making addition thus.

Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,

Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?

Shall will in others seem right gracious,

And in my will no fair acceptance shine?

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,

And in abundance addeth to his store;

So thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will'

One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

Let no unkind 'No' fair beseechers kill;

Think all but one, and me in that one 'Will.'

(Sonnet CXXXV)

June 23, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: One gorgeous mural

Caracas isn't famous for its urban beauty spots. But then again, we haven't heard nearly enough about its Bolivarian murals...such as this one:

Hugo Mural close-up

The motor-man in front is to give you some idea of the scale.

The full view:

The full Hugo

"A better world is possible, if it's socialist."

Truer words were never spoken, and Hugo apparently thinks so too. Here's his informal rating of the artwork:

Hugo's perfect ten

See?

June 22, 2006

Quotable: Noam Chomsky on the unspeakable c-word

"In the United States you're not allowed to talk about class differences. In fact, only two groups are allowed to be class-conscious in the United States. One of them is the business community, which is rabidly class-conscious. When you read their literature, it's all full of the danger of the masses and their rising power and how we have to defeat them. It's kind of vulgar, inverted Marxism.

"The other group is the high planning sectors of the government. They talk the same way--how we have to worry about the rising aspirations of the common man and the impoverished masses who are seeking to improve standards and harming the business climate.

"So they can be class-conscious. They have a job to do. But it's extremely important to make other people, the rest of the population, believe that there is no such thing as class. We're all just equal, we're all Americans, we live in harmony, we all work together, everything is great."

--Noam Chomsky, interview with David Barsamian, in The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (Odonian Press, 1994)

Indefinitely detained at Gitmo

Gitmo Detainees

Sadly, I fear this is no joke.

June 21, 2006

But on the bright side, organ donations are up...

A pathologist friend-of-friends often refers to motorcycles as "donorcycles". See if you can tell me why after reading this.

Motorcycle fatalities involving riders without helmets have soared in the nearly six years since Gov. Jeb Bush repealed the state's mandatory helmet law, a newspaper reported Sunday.

A Florida Today analysis of federal motorcycle crash statistics found "unhelmeted" deaths in Florida rose from 22 in 1998 and 1999, the years before the helmet law repeal, to 250 in 2004, the most recent year of available data.

Total motorcycle deaths in the state have increased 67 percent, from 259 in 2000 to 432 in 2004, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.

The article hastens to add that motorcycle registrations are up 87 percent since Jebby repealed the helmet law, and that most fatal motorcycle crashes are actually the fault of careless car drivers turning left. (That last bit comes courtesy of a helmet-hating biker.)

Why, oh why, couldn't they give the last word to a doctor? Perhaps a specialist in organ transplantation, thanking all those civic-minded helmet-haters for their gifts of life? Would that be too much to ask?

June 20, 2006

Watch out, kiddies, or you'll catch the gay!

Oh, no! As if being an interfering peacenik wasn't bad enough, look what else Jim Loney has been doing to corrupt the good Christian youth of the world...

Former hostage James Loney is accusing an Ontario Catholic camp he once worked for of closing its doors because of his homosexuality.

The closure of the Ontario Catholic Youth Leadership Camp by the Knights of Columbus Ontario State Council, which finances the camp, was an act of discrimination, Loney told a news conference Tuesday.

Loney said he and his supporters struggled with the decision to go public with the allegations, but finally decided to come forward.

"We are doing this because we care about the church, we care about young people and we care about the kind of church they are coming into," he said.

But he added, "We can't prove this. This is a concern that we have based on the sequence of events."

Loney claims the council's chairman said during a phone call on March 31, 2006, that concerns had been raised that the camp was promoting a homosexual lifestyle, and made specific reference to Loney. Shortly after, the camp closed.

The phone call apparently happened a week after Loney made national headlines when he revealed his sexual orientation and introduced his partner, Dan Hunt, on television.

Loney's family and Hunt had decided against publicizing the couple's relationship while Loney was being held hostage in Iraq, fearing it could jeopardize his life.

And this is what he comes home to. A national hero who didn't preach religion but practised it, who tried to help Iraqis survive a war, and who raised our collective consciousness, comes home to...ostracism.

Yeah, that's Christianity for you.

And this from the same church that's been covering up child-molesting priests for HOW long, again?

When whiter isn't cleaner

Despite the fact that it's now a white-chocolate city, New Orleans just called in the army...for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Did another hurricane hit? Yes...but not the meteorological kind. Read on:

The Louisiana governor asked for the National Guard to return to New Orleans after a weekend that saw six people murdered in the city.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had earlier called for 300 soldiers and some 60 state police to be sent to the city.

Crime has risen in the city after a brief drop following Hurricane Katrina.

The six deaths over the weekend raised the number of murders in New Orleans this year to 52, police said.

That figure is less than half what it was a year ago - but the city's population is also only roughly half of what it was before Hurricane Katrina forced thousands from their homes last August.

Police statistics show crime has risen in recent months.

[...]

New Orleans has long been regarded as a hotbed of violent crime but the crime rate there fell sharply in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

However, residents have been complaining that a lack of adequate schooling and housing as a result of the hurricane has forced the crime rate up again.

Emphasis added.

Does Bill Bennett now regret his remarks about aborting all those black babies? If not, he should. Seems that losing a lot of black people hasn't made a dent in the per-capita murder rate of New Orleans.

But the answer to that problem is not racial; it's all out there in plain sight. Read that last paragraph again.

Maybe we could persuade Hugo Chavez to set up a social-welfare mission in New Orleans. I would say they're about ripe for it.

June 17, 2006

More proof that Frankenfoods suck shit

Yes, those pesky scientists have found some more eye-bugging evidence that Monsanto is lying through its teeth to us.

And some of them are from Venezuela!

Two research teams in England and Venezuela have discovered something alarming about the new genetically modified crops filled with insecticide. The insects not only eat them, they seem to thrive on them.

Scientists at Imperial College in London and the Universidad Simon Rodrigues in Caracas found that the insects that the chemical additive was supposed to kill were not only feeding on the poison, but the stuff seems to help them thrive.

That the biotech companies added genes from a naturally occurring poison, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is widely used as a pesticide by organic farmers, means that the mutation by insects to survive the poison is a potential threat to the organic farming industry.

Environmentalists believe the resistance developed quickly because the insects are constantly exposed to the chemical in the plants, instead of being subjected to occasional spraying.

This is bad news for not only the struggling agricultural industry but for over 6 billion world food consumers as well. With the world population exploding and the instability of weather because of global warming, world agriculture is in danger of falling short of producing enough food for everybody.

The GMO experimentation with Bt fell under fierce criticism by growers world-wide who warned that the excessive use of the chemical would eventually generate stronger chemical-resistant pests. Not even the strongest critics dreamed that the insects would be feeding and thriving on the plants engineered with Bts.

But there is more bad news about those modified crops. Lots of it.

Prominent scientists from seven countries recently produced an Independent Report on GM agricultural practices during a public conference in London. The report, titled The Case for a GM-free Sustainable World, called for a ban on GM crops.

Emphasis and link added.

This is one of those "told you so" moments that bring absolutely no satisfaction to those who told 'em so. The Frankenfoodies told us this crap would spell the end of world hunger, and instead it will exacerbate the problem in the following ways:

GM crops failed to deliver the promised benefits. There have been shown no increase in yields or a significant reduction in herbicide and pesticide use. In fact the United States lost an estimated $12 billion over GM crops because of worldwide rejection of them.

The GM crops are posing escalating problems on the farm. The group found that transgenic lines are unstable. Triple herbicide-tolerant volunteers and weeds have now emerged in North America, creating severe problems for farmers who suddenly have no inexpensive solution to weed and pest control. The fear is that superweeds and bt-resistant pests have been created.

Further extensive transgenic contamination, especially for corn, seems to be unavoidable. It has been found in maize even in the remote regions of Mexico. Tests showed that 32 out of 33 commercial seed stocks in Canada, where GM corn is prohibited, were contaminated anyway. Corn pollen remains airborne for hours and can be carried by the winds for miles. Thus there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM crops.

GM crops are not proven safe. In fact, its regulation was fatally flawed from the start. The principle of "substantial equivalence," a vague and ill-defined rule, gave companies like Monsanto complete license in claiming GM products equal and as safe as non-GM.

Dangerous gene products are incorporated into the food crops. For example, Bt proteins, added to 25 percent of all GM crops, are harmful to many non-target insects, and some are potent allergens for humans and other mammals.

GM foods are increasingly used to produce pharmaceuticals and drugs. These include cytokines, known to suppress the immune system and are linked to dementia, neurotoxicity and mood swings; vaccines and viral sequences like as the 'spike' protein gene of the pig coronavirus, in the same family as the SARS virus; and glycoprotein gene gp120 of the AIDS virus that could interfere with the immune system. The fear is that this last gene could recombine with viruses and bacteria to generate new and unpredictable pathogens.

Crops engineered with suicide genes for male sterility, promoted as a means of preventing the spread of transgenes, actually spread both male sterility and herbicide tolerance traits via pollen.

Broad-spectrum herbicides are found to be highly toxic to humans and other species of animals. Glufosinate ammonium and glyphosate, used with herbicide tolerant GM crops that currently account for 75% of all GM crops worldwide, are both systemic metabolic poisons. Glufosinate ammonium is linked to neurological, respiratory, gastrointestinal and haematological toxicities, and birth defects in humans and mammals; also toxic to butterflies and a number of beneficial insects. Glyphosate is the most frequent cause of complaints and poisoning in the UK. Its exposure nearly doubled the risk of late spontaneous abortion. Children born to users of glyphosate had elevated neurobehavioral defects. It caused cell division dysfunction that may be linked to human cancers.

Little cancer with your canola oil, ma'am?

Or would you prefer to eat your bad science for breakfast? That is, if it doesn't grow arms and strangle you first?

June 16, 2006

This is why they voted to "stay the course"...

The very very VERY expensive US embassy in Iraq

It's worth noting that the Iraqis have repeatedly asked the US to leave and never been heeded.

After all, a boondoggle THIS vast and expensive has to be justified with a near-unanimous vote in the US senate. Otherwise, someone would have to admit that they flushed a major cash-stash down the toilet again.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Sartorial splendor!

It doesn't get much snazzier than this:

Evo and Hugo look great in indigenous threads!

Evo and Hugo in indigenous Bolivian threads. Molto bello!

June 15, 2006

We now pause for the following announcement...

The Pentagon has just informed the world that the 2,500th US military death in the Iraq pillage has occurred.

That's right: 2,500 dead US military for the sake of a lie. And OIL.

And in the meantime, there's no end in sight.

The Unknown Soldier is dead. Long live the Big Lie.

Mas dinero, Jorge, por favor!

Wow. Talk about a sweet scam.

Funny how Alvaro Uribe waited until AFTER he was safely re-elected (cough) by abstention! (cough) before springing this widdle surprise on his numero uno consumer of the legendary Colombian marching powder:

US President George W Bush and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe have held talks about how to speed up the eradication of drugs.

Speaking at the White House, Mr Uribe said his country had not achieved the best results in the last few years.

Bogota receives around $600m a year in US aid to combat drugs trafficking - but studies suggest the flow of cocaine to the US has not fallen significantly.

Mr Uribe, who was re-elected last month, wants the aid to rise.

Colombia is one of the largest recipients of US assistance.

Since 2000 it has received more than $4bn in aid under Plan Colombia, a scheme for combating drugs trafficking.

"In the last two years, we have not gotten the results in the areas with illegal drugs," Mr Uribe admitted after the talks.

"One point we have studied this morning with President Bush is how to speed up the eradication of drugs, because we need to show better results in this area."

Yeah, I'll just bet they do!

But wait...the funniest line is still to come:

Mr Bush, for his part, described Mr Uribe as a "vital ally".

Now seriously...isn't that just about the funniest thing Dubya's said since that "misunderestimated" blooper?

We all know he's not talking about the success of the War on Drugs, because there hasn't been any. And it's in right-wing Washington's interest that there never be any. Hasn't Gary Webb pointed out as much? There's a very good reason why Washington prefers its Latin American leaders to be as authoritarian as possible. And it's not law and order; quite the opposite, in fact. As long as there is instability in the region, someone in Washington will be rubbing his grubby claws and dollar signs will be gleaming in his eyes. Repression, even if it doesn't fight crime worth a damn, is as good as gold to these people. (Do I have to remind y'all that Colombia is the country in Latin America where trade unionists and journalists both get murdered in the greatest numbers? And that there is a powerful reason why those two groups are so vulnerable there?)

And if there were ever any doubt as to why Jorge and Alvaro are sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, get a load of how this item closes:

The conservative Columbian president is Washington's closest ally in Latin America, and seen by US diplomats as a bulwark against President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Item: Chavez's Venezuela enjoys unprecedented press freedom--definitely exceeding that of the United States, and even Canada. And the right-wing corporate media there repay their president for his kindness with a 24/7 shower of steaming brown libel. (So does the US Congress.)

Item #2: Chavez's Venezuela also encourages trade unionists to be uppity...and uncorrupted. Oh dear!

And then there's another item, perhaps insignificant but worth mentioning in this context: Venezuela is also fighting its own war on drugs, without Washington's "aid"--and succeeding.

You will NEVER hear Hugo Chavez saying "Mas dinero, Jorge, por favor". At least, not in the context of any "Plan Venezuela". And there are plenty of good reasons for that, too. Something like 25 million of them, in fact. Of whom more than half are not only cheering his efforts to create greater sovereignty for them, but participating in those initiatives themselves.

And you'll scarcely hear a peep about that in the US media, either. (Whenever you do, it will be hedged around with a lot of very dodgy language intimating that Chavez is somehow authoritarian.)

But by damn, you'll hear an awful lot of questionable reports touting the "success" of Plan Colombia! You'll even hear some downright scary suggestions floated by right-wing extremists in the US Congress in the name of furthering the war. And conversely, hardly a word about Alvaro Uribe's own well-documented authoritarian tendencies.

Ever wonder why?

And the plot just keeps getting thicker...

...and SICKER.

Yes, it's Gitmo again!

The father of one of three inmates said to have committed suicide at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has said he believes his son was murdered.

"This idea of suicide is a lie. My son wouldn't commit suicide," said Ali Abdullah Ahmed, father of a Yemeni detainee found dead on Saturday.

The US insists they killed themselves and is awaiting final medical reports.

[...]

The apparent triple suicide has drawn renewed criticism of Guantanamo and calls for it to be shut down.

A US official's claim that the three had committed suicide as a public relations stunt or an act of "asymmetric warfare" drew international condemnation.

Gee. I wonder who's REALLY committing asymmetric warfare here?

So far, it looks like the victims never stood a fighting chance at any level.

Red Alert--Hanging Hajjis!

It doesn't get more asymmetrical than that.

June 13, 2006

This is even worse than flip-flops

Follow the Bouncing Rationale!

Considering how the Hardcore Stupid think Bush never wavers, he sure has switched bogus rationales for his war a lot.

And so have the Hardcore Stupid!

Gitmo North: UNACCEPTABLE!

This is not the US.

This is Canada.

So why is THIS happening--here?

Canada is reviewing laws allowing detention without charge, as lawyers for 17 terror suspects arrested this month say that their Muslim clients have no chance of a fair trial.

The supreme court is to hear arguments this week on whether security certificates that allow secret court hearings, undisclosed evidence and open-ended detention are constitutional.

The certificates were introduced under the immigration act in 1976, but since September 2001 they have been used to jail five Muslims - Adil Charkaoui, Mohamed Harkat, Hasan Almrei, Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohammed Mahjoub - suspected of links to terrorists abroad or membership of a terrorist group.

Canadian MPs say the measures are needed to thwart terrorist attacks, but lawyers for three of the detainees say they breach civil liberties.

Federal lawyers argue that secrecy prevents disclosure of intelligence and surveillance techniques to terrorists abroad.

They said in a court brief: "The greater the number of individuals with access to this information, the greater the risk of advertent and inadvertent disclosure. What is fair depends entirely on the context."

Uh, that's MORAL RELATIVISM. And that is un-Canadian.

It is un-Canadian for the simple reason that it divides detainees into those entitled to a fair and open trial...and those not so entitled. That's a huge black eye for a country where egalitarianism is a long-honored way of life!

Fortunately, the Supreme Court is currently hearing the case against this two-tier justice system that the "security certificates" represent. And a former Iraq hostage of rather high profile is helping in the quest for equal justice:

James Loney said he felt compelled to get involved in the campaign to free the detainees because they publicly supported him during the four months that he was being held by militants in Iraq.

"I never really knew what freedom was until it was taken away from me," said Loney, a longtime peace activist.

"Even the simple things like not even being able to touch and hold the people you love. And this is being denied to these men indefinitely."

In a case that made international headlines, Loney and three colleagues were working for the humanitarian organization Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad when they were abducted by militants on Nov. 26, 2005.

The militants, who called themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, executed one of the hostages before Loney and two others were rescued on March 23.

Ottawa is currently holding four men under the security certificates, which were created in response to al-Qaeda's attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Remember, Jim Loney was one of four indefinitely detained men, too. He too was not charged with any crime during his captivity. What difference is there between the lawless men who imprisoned him, and those insisting that these four under "security certificates" must remain indefinitely imprisoned, without charges, now? Does officialdom sanction what would otherwise be known, quite rightly, as terrorism?

And here's a larger question: Should Canada be dragged down the same freedom-denying path the US is following? Does it seriously do anything to combat terrorism? And what evidence is there that the normal criminal trial process was ever inadequate for dealing with terrorism in the first place?

The Supreme Court may have to decide for itself what the answers to these questions may be, but I already know where I stand. Canada must NOT become Gitmo North, even in the name of fighting terrorism--EVER. Equal justice for all means a free, fair and OPEN trial for all. No matter the charges. Justice must not only be done, it must be SEEN to be done.

Anything else is un-Canadian!

What purpose does a blackout serve?

Occasionally, it serves to protect a potentially innocent person's identity; sometimes, the family of a perpetrator, especially when s/he is related to the victim of the crime.

However, in this instance, one really has to wonder...

Lawyers acting for a group of Canadian terror suspects have complained about a media blackout on court proceedings.

Speaking after 14 of the 17 suspects appeared at a bail hearing in Brampton, Ontario, they said it was indicative that the men cannot get a fair trial.

Details of the charges they face have not been published but their lawyers say they include an alleged plot to storm parliament and behead the PM.

The accusations against the men, most Canadians, has caused nationwide shock.

Rocco Galati, representing one of the suspects, who include five teenagers, complained that the men were being harshly treated.

"They have five minutes to eat their meals or they are taken away," he said.

"The accused are not aliens from another planet. They are Canadians accused under the Criminal Code. No more, no less," he added.

There were chaotic scenes outside the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton last week when charges were brought against the accused, as family members were jostled in the media scrum.

Detailed charges have not been released but a defence lawyer said they ranged from plots to blow up parliament buildings to attacks on media outlets to press demands that Canadian forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

One suspect was accused of wanting to behead the prime minister, an allegation defence lawyers said was "scare-mongering".

I strongly suspect that that last word is the key here.

This whole affair has gone down with an inordinate (dare I say un-Canadian?) amount of drama. For all I know, this could be Stephen Harper's shot at a Dubya-like trifecta; it sure smells like one. Scare the shit out of us peaceful huggers of jackpines, just to consolidate his shaky Conservative minority government, yeah--that's the ticket!

Only, of course, it won't work. We may look and sound a lot like US Americans (to the point where we routinely export our wonderfully accentless broadcasters to them!), but that's where the similarity ends. The psyche is, if not 180 degrees removed, pretty damn close to it. We don't see The Enemy behind every damn tree, so we're not afraid to hug 'em. As Michael Moore found out when he made Bowling for Columbine, we don't live in a culture of fear. We actually have more guns per capita than our neighbors to the south, but the risk of any of us using them to commit a crime is vanishingly small in comparison. (All right, most of us DO lock our doors at night as an ordinary safety precaution, but that's the only thing he got wrong. The not-living-in-fear part is right on target!)

Now, this is something a lot of US Americans don't get, including my own sweetie in Chicagoland. (Sorry, sweetums, I'm not picking on you--honest!) Why am I not shaking in my boots over this alleged terror plot? (Well, aside from the fact that it's late spring and I no longer need to wear boots--except when I'm slogging through the swamps in search of wild asparagus?)

Simple: This alleged terror plot was foiled. By good ol'-fashioned police work, not by ripping up the Charter of Rights and using it for toilet paper. That's why. I can still sleep at night because I know the RCMP is perfectly capable of doing its job of protecting the public, and without my losing a tittle or a jot of my civil liberties!

And in any event, the odds that I would have been harmed by a bunch of bungling would-be bomb-makers, like the odds of my being victimized by guncrime, are vanishingly small. Smaller, in fact. Two of my uncles are avid hunters with sizable gun collections; I stand a far greater chance of being shot by one of them when he's drunk than I do of being blown up by some misguided young guy named Mohammed. Yet I'm not afraid of my uncles. Why, then, should I be afraid of that Mohammed-guy?

Well, dammit, I'm just NOT. And I'm not about to lose sleep wondering why I'm not losing sleep over this.

Which brings me back around to the blackout. If the accused's own lawyers are against it, I have to wonder why it's there in the first place. Who is trying to hide what from us--the Canadian public, who have every right to know--and WHY? Who's so goddamn scared of open and transparent legal proceedings?

Again--not I!

And apparently, neither is Mohammed, nor his lawyer. So, by process of elimination, that leaves...

...Stephen Harper.

Who has everything to lose--including his own head, if the accusations are true. Which, somehow, I doubt.

Maybe THAT's why this blackout is being imposed.

BTW, for an amusing reality check, you really must read what my friend Reprehensor wrote about this on his own blog. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll shit yourself.

June 12, 2006

And now, they backtrack. Typical!

Yes, folks, the laughs just keep on rollin' from those wacky, joke-a-day folks at Gitmo...

The US state department has distanced itself from comments by a top official that the three suicides by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were "a good PR move".

Colleen Graffy told the BBC the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause", but taking their own lives was unnecessary.

"I would not say that it was a PR stunt," said spokesman Sean McCormack.

Meanwhile, a US lawyer has said that one of three who killed themselves was due to be freed but did not know it.

Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the foreign detainees at the US camp in Cuba, said the man was among 141 prisoners due for release.

He said the prisoner was not told because US officials had not decided which country he would be sent to.

[...]

Mr McCormack would not comment on whether Ms Graffy had been rebuked for her remarks.

Camp commander Rear Adm Harry Harris has also taken a tough line on the suicides, saying it was an "act of asymmetric warfare waged against us".

And just to put those absurd remarks in context...

There have been dozens of suicide attempts since the camp was set up four years ago - but none successful until now.

Criticism of the camp is mounting.

The United Nations rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said European leaders should use a summit with President George W Bush next week to press for the prison's closure.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said procedures at Guantanamo Bay violated the rule of law and undermined the fight against terrorism.

Emphasis added.

You can't fight terrorism with more terrorism, or injustice with more injustice. How many more times does anyone have to say TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT?

If they had been on the right track to begin with, they wouldn't have to backtrack now. But since they've been on the wrong foot constantly, they keep tripping over their own feet. Which is, in fact, par for the wingnutty course.

FLIPFLOP! FLIPFLOP!! FLIPFLOP!!!

Quotable: Albert Camus on good and evil

"The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn't the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness."

--Albert Camus, The Plague

June 11, 2006

More projection from the official excuse-makers

If you thought yesterday's Gitmo post was ugly, get a load of what the professional liars of BushCo are saying today:

A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a "good PR move to draw attention".

Colleen Graffy told the BBC the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause", but taking their own lives was unnecessary.

[...]

Speaking to the BBC's Newshour programme, Ms Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, said the three men did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.

Detainees had access to lawyers, received mail and had the ability to write to families, so had other means of making protests, she said, and it was hard to see why the men had not protested about their situation.

But Colleen, they DID:

The number of detainees on hunger strike at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown and now involves 75 inmates, the US says.

Navy Cmdr Robert Durand said the new hunger strike was aimed at attracting media attention and may also be connected to a disturbance on 18 May.

Detainees started an on-off hunger strike last August to protest at their continued detention and conditions.

Rights groups have voiced concerns that the US has force-fed the strikers.

About 460 prisoners remain at Guantanamo, many of them captured in Afghanistan. Some have been held for nearly four years without charge.

Emphasis added.

Gee, Commander, you don't think being held for four years without charges and no intention of ever going to trial, in what basically amounts to dog cages, with no dignity and much abuse, isn't something to protest about? You agree with Ms. Graffy, then, that it's all just PR for the jihadi cause? That by losing their lives, these prisoners somehow still stood to gain--when they wouldn't even live to see the results of their act?

Well, let me tell you something, Commander Durand and Ms. Graffy: I certainly do see loony, committed jihadis out there who will stop at nothing to do PR for their mad, world-conquering cause. They are indeed terrorists. They are indeed murderous, and they do indeed have no regard for human life. But their names are not Arabic, and their skins are not brown, and they are not Muslims.

You have met the enemy, and it is YOU.

Dubya, the Grim Reaper

Where's Harry Potter when you need him?

Uh oh...we have an escapee:

The Prisoner of Azkabush

Please! Stop these Death Eaters before they strike again:

Republicans for Voldemort

(Originators unknown, but brilliant!)

Quotable: Tim Grieve on repugnant "patriots"

"The next time a Republican wraps himself in 9/11 or uses a soldier as a prop -- the next time Bush watches a 9/11 movie with 9/11 families, the next time he invites the father of a fallen soldier to join him in throwing out a first pitch, the next time he participates in a staged chat with troops in the field, the next time his party holds its national political convention within shouting distance of ground zero, the next time the mother of a fallen soldier turns up in Laura Bush's box at the State of the Union address, the next time Cheney suggests that questioning the president's Iraq policy somehow equates to undercutting the troops -- remember this: It's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who do this sort of thing. Just ask Ann Coulter."

-- Tim Grieve

June 10, 2006

This is totally fucking insane.

Okay, now that I've grabbed your attention with my gratuitously obscene heading, take a gander at this:

Three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have died in what appears to have been a suicide pact.

The inmates, two Saudis and a Yemeni, hanged themselves in their cells.

The camp commander said the deaths - the first at the camp - were planned in "an act of warfare". Rights groups said they were driven by despair.

[...]

There have been dozens of suicide attempts since the camp was set up four years ago - but none successful until now.

The men were found unresponsive and not breathing by guards on Saturday morning, said officials.

They were in separate cells in Camp One, the highest security section of the prison.

[...]

Rear Adm Harris said he did not believe the men had killed themselves out of despair.

"They are smart. They are creative, they are committed," he said, quoted by Reuters.

"They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

Any guesses as to what's totally fucking insane here, people?

EVERYTHING is suddenly an act of war. Even suicide. By PRISONERS. In a concentration camp. Where they have been held for years without charges, trial or sentencing, in total contravention of the laws of the United States, or indeed the United Nations.

They killed no one but themselves, but still, this is somehow an "act of warfare" by individuals with "no regard for life".

Excuse me, Admiral, but do you know what you just said? If you have any regard for life, why are you keeping them prisoners in such horrendous conditions--under no law, with no charges, no trial, and no sentencing? Why are you complicit in this obvious war crime? Why have these suicides not prompted you to denounce the collective madness in which you are playing a part? Who are you to say that they have "no regard for life" when it's apparent that you have precious little of your own for THEIR lives? That's PROJECTION. That, by definition, is TOTALLY FUCKING INSANE.

No, I don't think my header is too obscene for this at all.

June 9, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Posted for no particular reason...

...other than that it's a nice shot of Hugo Chavez:

A nice shot of Chavecito

And I like it.

June 8, 2006

Okay, listen up...

...today, we're gonna talk about FEAR!

But don't blink, or you'll miss Geddy Lee's faaaaaabulous cameo.

Stracciatella a la Bina

This is an Italian variation on your basic, nourishing egg-drop soup. It's prepared in two stages; the broth is cooked the night before, so the next day's preparation is relatively short and simple.

For the broth, place a whole chicken (or four leg quarters) in a large stock pot. Cover with water and add 1 tablespoon salt. Cut a yellow onion (unpeeled!) in half. Stick two cloves in each half, place the cut sides down on a hot element, let blacken, then add to pot. Also add a bay leaf or two, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 2 hours, or until chicken pieces are tender but not yet falling apart.

Remove chicken from pot to a separate platter, cover and refrigerate. Remove onion and bay leaf from broth and discard. Refrigerate broth overnight.

In the morning, skim fat from broth. Remove skin and fat from meat and meat from bones. (You can probably pick it off the bones entirely by hand if you've cooked it correctly!) Set the meat aside.

Clean a kilo or so of fresh spinach; discard yellow or wilted leaves and any tough stems. Rinse and let drip dry, then place in a large pot. Steam the spinach by adding a small amount of water, cover, then turn the heat on high until the pot starts to steam. Turn heat off and let the spinach sit. It should be still bright green and but tender when it's done. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into small (roughly 1/2-inch square) pieces. (If you'd rather use frozen spinach, take two or three packets and just thaw them in the fridge overnight.)

In a separate bowl, measure out 1 cup of the cold chicken broth. Add 3 tablespoons each of durum semolina and grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese, 3 eggs, 1 tablespoon dried parsley, a pinch of nutmeg, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Whisk together until fully blended.

While you're preparing the spinach and the egg-drop mixture, heat the remaining chicken broth to boiling. Add a bouillon cube if desired, or more salt if needed. When boiling, whisk in the egg-drop mixture, which should form small "rags" as it cooks. Reduce heat immediately to low. When egg drops form small, ragged clumps, add spinach and chicken. Heat until all are warmed through, then serve with Calabrese bread and garlic-flavored olive oil for dipping. Soup can be topped with grated cheese, chopped green onion and fresh-ground pepper if desired. Serves 4 to 6, who will all be wanting (and getting!) seconds.

Buon appetito!

June 7, 2006

How the Hardcore Stupid "think"...in Utah

The NY Times found out something we all already knew about the Mormon State...namely, that people there are strikingly unidimensional, in the sense of being faith-based to a fault. And nowhere is that more evident than in their "thoughts" on Dubya:

"When I watch him, I see a man with his heart in the right place," said Delia Randall, a 22-year-old mother from Provo, the hub of a county that gave Senator John Kerry just 11 percent of the presidential vote in 2004. "I like George Bush because he is God fearing, and that's how a lot of people in this area feel."

So God-fearing that no one's ever seen him set foot in church, and no one seems to care?

"I'm against the war in Iraq — and what happened with Hurricane Katrina, well, it was a failure by everybody," said Ron Craft, a sales manager in Provo who said he was a devout Mormon and a strong conservative who considered himself independent politically. "I tend to judge a person by their character. And President Bush reminds me of President Reagan. He's a man of principle."

Item: Reagan was the first (and to date, only) divorced US president. And Wife #2 was just a wee bit pregnant when he tied the knot with her.

All of the administration's perceived failures, including the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the budget deficit, go through a different filter in these Bush strongholds. Sounding a familiar theme, Mr. Craft said he was distrustful of news media portrayals of Mr. Bush because "they concentrate too much on the negative and certain small things."

So, enlighten us: which of these things are "small"--Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq quagmire, or the budget deficit? Mr. Craft???

"He's strong, and he doesn't waver," said Jaren Olsen, 18, a freshman at Brigham Young, the nation's largest religiously affiliated private university, who is from Albany. "I like that he is for the family, that marriage should only be between a man and woman. And the war, we need to finish what we started."

No, Jaren, Bush doesn't waver. He flip-flops. BIG difference!

As for being for "the" family--whose? Certainly not the one my gay best friend is trying to make for himself. Marriage between a man and a woman is NOT "pro-family" by itself; just ask Britney Spears' first husband, who was lawfully wedded to her for all of two days.

And the war? Tell me...how close IS he to finishing what he started? And when are you gonna sign up to go help him finish it? You're prime meat, after all, Jaren. And Republicans, like Mormons, are grossly underrepresented among the grunts...

Another student at Brigham Young, Danielle Pulsipher, a junior, offered blanket approval of the president. Asked to name which of his actions as president she liked most, she was hard-pressed to answer.

"I'm not sure of anything he's done, but I like that he's religious — that's really important," Ms. Pulsipher said.

Wow! There's a ringing endorsement if ever I heard one!

"This is a community committed to faith, family and freedom, and that translates to consistent popularity for George Bush," said Mayor Lewis K. Billings of Provo.

"People here like so much of what George Bush has done," Mr. Billings said. "I think he's got support on almost everything — except immigration."

Translation: We're fascist here, and we think he's not fascist enough when it comes to those tequila-niggers.

"I like his honesty," said Allison Wilkey, a mother of three.

Poor Allison. I bet that if you asked her to name an actual instance in which he was honest, she'd draw a blank too.

"There is this puritanical strain when it comes to thrift here, and one of the dominant themes is to get out of debt," said Joseph A. Cannon, the chairman of the State Republican Party. "So people wonder why we, the Republicans, control every branch of government and yet we can't stay out of debt."

And yet those people just can't keep wondering long enough to flip the OTHER lever in the polling booth for a change.

That, by definition, is insanity.

It is also Hardcore Stupidity.

June 5, 2006

Another of Canada's worst exports

Right up there with Pamela Anderson and her fake everything, it's John Roberts and his fake news.

On the June 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts, in reporting on the diplomatic package the United States and several other nations will offer Iran to discontinue its purported nuclear programs, commented that "Iraq endured 11 years of sanctions, and, you know, we still had to go to war to get rid of what it was that they had." As professional journalists, host Wolf Blitzer and Roberts are undoubtedly aware that no weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear or otherwise -- were found in Iraq and that the Iraq Survey Group's September 2004 final report (also known as the Duelfer Report) concluded that "Iraq did not possess a nuclear device, nor had it tried to reconstitute a capability to produce nuclear weapons after 1991." Nevertheless, Blitzer responded: "Good point, John."

If THAT was a good point, I'd hate to see a bad one. Almost as much as I'd hate to see him back up here in the Great North. We export our best comedians, and our worst TV news people, to the States. The former is a tragedy, and the latter is a comedy.

Particularly as pertains to Mr. Roberts.

I remember this posturing buffoon back when he was a veejay on CITYTV during the mid-1980s. He was styling himself as "J.D. Roberts" back then. He was horrible at that too (and for a job as brain-free as veejaying, that's really saying something!), but for some reason they stuck him in there anyway. Must have been that telegenicity thing. He was the perfect pre-packaged podperson.

Nice to see nothing much has changed since then. With the exception of his grizzled hair, of course, which looks kinda weird with that eerily preserved face. (Those permanently surprised eyebrows? Not to cast aspersions without confirmation, but in most cases they are a dead giveaway of vanity run amuck. When the doc can't do a proper eye lift, he usually settles for yanking the forehead up an inch or two. Or, in the case of the Bride of Wildenstein, several.)

Where was I? Brain fart.

--Oh yeah. Roberts. Posturing buffoon. Still the same. Nice nothing's changed. Journalistic profession has sure lost ground since Walter Cronkite stopped telling us the way it was. Yadda yadda yadda.

Still, Roberts may have let loose with a heckuva Freudian slip there: The US certainly did have to go to war to get what Iraq had, and it wasn't WMD. It wasn't even that laughable chicken-scratching on foolscap that was supposed to represent the sum total of Saddam's nefarious world-takeover plans. The initials of Operation Iraqi Liberation spell it out nice and clear.

And hey! They can recycle that title, too...just plug in "Iranian" for "Iraqi" and they'll be right up to date. No more truthful except inadvertently, mind you, but who needs truth when you've got BushCo and J.D. the failed veejay defying gravity every which way you look?

June 3, 2006

God to Pat Robertson: STFU!

I mean really...how else would you explain this?

Authorities in Connecticut say two people died after a plane owned by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson went down in heavy fog today.

Robertson was not aboard.

The bodies were recovered from Long Island Sound.

Three other people were in the Learjet 35 when it went down about a half-mile short of the runway at Groton New London Airport. They were able to escape with minor injuries. They were pulled from the water and taken to a hospital in New London.

The plane is registered to Virginia-based Robertson Asset Management. The company is owned by Robertson and is separate from the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"Robertson Asset Management"?

Thou canst not worship both God and Mammon, Patwa. Or have you forgotten?

And in your shoes, I'd be damn nice to Hugo Chavez from now on, too. He's a better Christian on his worst day than you are on your best.

If the Founders didn't ban it, why do so now?

Just when you think BushCo had run out of gas for good and sure (check out Dubya's latest approval ratings--remind you of anyone?), they pull a rather predictable rabbit out of the hat (or should I say, habit out of the rat?)--appeal to the "base". In this case, it is definitely the Hardcore Stupid:

President Bush will promote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a scheduled Senate vote on the cause that is dear to his conservative backers.

The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

It stands little chance of passing the 100-member Senate, where proponents are struggling to get even 50 votes. Several Republicans oppose the measure, and so far only one Democrat - Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska - says he will vote for it.

[...]

A slim majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press from March. But the poll also showed attitudes are changing: 63 percent opposed gay marriage in February 2004.

Those poll results don't reflect how people might feel about amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

Therein lies the crux of this bit of red-meat throwing, which is about as ham-handed as anything I've ever seen from Chucklenuts. Their personal feelings about same-sex marriage aside, most don't want to see the constitution mucked with in this manner:

I would never vote nor support an admendment that bans same sex marriage because that will start the process of enshrining descrimination in the US Constitution. The US Constitution has always been the tool to break down descrimination. There has never been an admendment in that document that enforces descrimination in any way. It has always been to broadened freedoms, instead of restricting them nor enforce narrow minded opinions.

--Robert Tripp, Sammamish, WA

Slightly flubbed wording aside (typed in the heat of great emotion, no doubt), I'd say Robert Tripp nails it. "We the People" also includes They, the Gay People. Amending the constitution to cut them out of the definition of The People would be akin to repealing the amendment that banned slavery. It would officially sanction gay-bashing in all its forms, including the slick sophistry of those homophobes who retort, when challenged, that "of course gays are allowed to marry--someone of the opposite sex, just like everyone else!"

Definitely a huge step backward for a country that's used to making small moves forward, with occasional setbacks. And that must, therefore, use its own constitution as the weapon against those setbacks. They won't be able to do that, however, if that constitution is perverted as Bush would like to do.

It may be "just a goddamn piece of paper!" to him, but to most of the country, it's still sacrosanct, and so not to be put in service of any one man's prejudices.

Item: Perhaps there's another reason why Dubya is pushing this steaming brown piece of hypocrisy. Wayne Madsen reports that Pickles is now staying at the Posh Mayflower Hotel, upset over Dubya's blatant goings-on with Condi Rice. (Scroll down to June 1 and 2.) While I can't confirm this anywhere else as yet, I can well believe it; Pickles' scary Xanax grin tells us all we really need to know about how she feels about being no more than a "lump in the bed" to the Giggling Killer. So much for the sanctity of "traditional" marriage, eh?

June 2, 2006

Quotable: Lynne Truss on modern rudeness

"Nearly sixty years ago, George Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four that the future was a boot stomping on a human face for ever. I see it as a forest of belligerent and dismissive palms held up to the human face instead. Thank you for choosing to hold for an assistant. There's no one here to help you at this time. Nobody asked you to hold the Effing door open. An error of type 506 has occurred. Please disconnect, check your preferences, then go off and die. Do NOT type PIN until requested. Please continue to hold, your call is important to us. Sharon's in charge of envelopes and she isn't in on Fridays. You need to go to the other till. Have you considered on-line banking? Eff Off, fat cow. If you would like to speak to an assistant, please have your account details ready and call back in 200 years."

--Lynne Truss, Talk to the Hand

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Everyone Hates Hugo, Part II

Or, Evil Dictator Scares Children! Film at 11!

Oh the horror. The HORROR. Hugo Chavez's vile appetites have become insatiable. First he was biting helpless women...

Angela Merkel is not amused! But Michelle Bachelet is. That's all that matters.

Now he's having his aides bring him a child to feast on wherever he goes. And I have the evidence...

Here he is, about to chow down on tender young flesh during his recent visit to London:

One of London's youngest Chavistas?

And here he is, trying to catch one on the fly in Bolivia:

Bolivian kids love Hugo too!

And in Venezuela, bear-hugging his innocent prey to death before he sucks its blood:

Hugo hugs a young'un

Yep, he's a downright boogyman. Those poor kids! They look terrorized. Will nobody free them from the clutches of this madman?

June 1, 2006

Michelle's off to a good start

Looks like Chile has indeed turned a decisive corner since the evil Augusto Pinochet was finally ousted from power. See for yourself:

Chilean riot police used water cannon and tear gas for a second day running to scatter secondary school students protesting over education reform.

Officials and student leaders have been talking but the government has rejected a demand to respond by Friday or face a national school strike.

Mass demonstrations on Wednesday saw more than 700 people arrested.

President Michelle Bachelet condemned the police's handling of the unrest and sacked the head of special forces.

[...]

Demonstrators are demanding educational reforms including a new curriculum, free bus fares and no exam fees.

[...]

The dispute is being seen as a big test for President Bachelet who took office in March.

Television footage and pictures splashed across newspapers of police beating young protesters provoked a barrage of criticism on Wednesday provoked a barrage of criticism from parents.

President Bachelet criticised the police for "unacceptable excesses" in their treatment of the demonstrators, most of whom are secondary school students, and sacked the head of special forces, Osvaldo Jara.

"We will not accept detestable acts like we saw (Tuesday)," she told a news conference.

She said her government would look at which of the students' demands were viable.

Protests began several weeks ago when students took over several schools in Santiago, and the strike has now spread nationwide with many pupils staying in school but refusing to attend lessons.

Tuesday's protests were the biggest student demonstrations in Chile in several decades.

It should come as no surprise that Michelle Bachelet would take the part of the students, and, even as president, denounce the police cracking their heads; she's been there too. It was during the coup of 1973 that she, herself a student (of medicine) at the time, was imprisoned and tortured, as were her parents. Her father, an air force general loyal to Salvador Allende, died of the torture. She and her mother survived, but went into exile when they were released.

Looks like she's back in earnest now, and doing what she vowed she would do: seeking truth and justice, rather than furthering the repression that scarred her own life.

Brava, Michelle, and keep up the good work.

Who wants to marry a millionaire?

I don't! Especially after reading this:

A woman has won $2.1m (£1.1m) from a Los Angeles dating agency after she failed to meet a millionaire.

Anne Majerik, 60, paid Beverly Hills matchmaker Orly Hadida $125,000 (£67,000) to meet affluent men who wanted monogamous relationships.

But she claimed Ms Hadida failed to deliver on her promise by only introducing her to inappropriate men.

[...]

Israeli-born Ms Hadida, who describes her business as a "high end matchmaking service", claims she caters for "elite, famous and wealthy people" around the world.

But Ms Majerik, who was widowed in 1999, said she was not introduced to the wealthy and cultured men she was promised.

In one example outlined in the case, Ms Majerik claimed she was sent on a date with an "international banker" who turned out to be "an interpreter that worked in a bank".

The jury ruled in favour of Ms Majerik after Ms Hadida had tried to countersue, alleging her client was a "serial matchmaker suer".

She claimed Ms Majerik became her client after she helped her during a separate lawsuit against another dating agency.

Ms Hadida added that Ms Majerik gave enthusiastic feedback about nearly every man she met through her service.

Jurors said they had tried to reach a balance between conflicting desires.

"We wanted to punish the defendant, but in the amount we wanted to punish the defendant, we didn't want to reward the plaintiff," said jury foreman Christie Troutt.

"They were both wrong."

Boy, I'll say.

And if you can afford to throw hundreds of thousands at a matchmaker, what the hell do you need a rich husband for? Or, for that matter, the matchmaker? Why not start a business instead? That would take care of both the loneliness AND the desire for more money.

Quotable: Albert Camus on pestilences

"A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven't taken their precautions. Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others, they forgot to be modest--that was all--and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views? They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences."

--Albert Camus, The Plague

(N.B.: This novel is set in Oran, in the early 1940s. The pestilence in question here is not only the bubonic plague, as a "straight" reading would indicate, but also an allegory of the encroaching Nazism of the day.)

When sources stink, can the story be trusted?

We choose a foreigner to hate,

The new Iraq gets more irate--

We really know nothing about them, and no one cares!

--The Barenaked Ladies, "Sell Sell Sell"

Funny how Hugo Chavez tends to get such short shrift from the US mainstream media. Always the same epithets apply to him: "strongman", "autocrat", "caudillo". His style is "heavy-handed", "populist" (in the most negative sense), "Marxist" (this though he's barely read Marx), "confrontational" and "anti-American". He has been repeatedly labelled a "destabilizing influence in the region". He's falsely accused of doing everything to make the country's long-bad situation even worse. Even the word "dictator" gets bandied about quite carelessly. After that, it's very easy to forget that Chavez has been elected twice by popular mandate, and confirmed several more times by votes that no less an authority than the Carter Centre certified to be clean. Add to that the fact that he's succeeded in fighting illiteracy, poverty, and a lack of medical care, PLUS driven up the GDP and even increased foreign investment, and you soon realize that you're dealing with a decidely competent leader here. All this, and the vast majority of his own people (and outsiders from all over the conscious world, for that matter) genuinely love him.

So where is all this vulgar language coming from?

Well, a lot of it is coming from Chavez's opponents. They own the media for the most part down in Venezuela. And they are virtually all rabidly right-wing, to the point of hysteria. They were front and centre in fomenting the Putsch of 2002; their talking heads openly called for Chavez's overthrow. They even told their followers where and when the demonstrations were to happen. They made no secret of their agenda at all: they routinely portrayed Chavez as mentally unstable, murderous, and sexually fixated in some weird Freudian fashion with Fidel Castro, etc.--and therefore, as overripe for overthrow. To tell the truth would only have hurt their plot, so they skipped over the truly telling bits and fixated on the most absurd details, often taking them far out of context. All the better to make Chavez look like, as some have taken to calling him, "the crackers from Caracas". (Never mind that he's neither crackers nor, in point of origin, from Caracas at all. "The sane from the plains" just doesn't have the same ring, dammit.)

It's a pathetic ploy, and one that has been losing effectiveness sharply since April 2002. What's truly pathetic, though, is the uncritical way the US media still pick up all this and run with it. They're like dogs; all you have to do is throw 'em a bone. And the right-wing Venezuelan media is more than happy to chuck out a veritable slaughterhouse of red meat for the lap-doggy US press. You can tell that few, if any, US papers or broadcasters actually have someone with boots on the ground in Venezuela; the precious few sources they cite are invariably high-profile sob-sister putschistas who are financed by the National Endowment for (guffaw) Democracy, or even some wealthy weasels styling themselves as "exiles". Either that, or they come from some right-wing think tank pretending to be "independent", as in this "fair and balanced" VOA piece. Only occasionally will you see a sop to someone more objective--or, heaven help us, actually sympathetic to Chavez. And even then, there will be a rush to skew the piece back toward the "crazy evil dictator" slant which is actually being pushed. Invariably the piece will end on an anti-Chavez note, or, at best, one that casts a slew of unbeneficial doubt upon him.

One thing you won't get, however, is the impression that Chavez might in fact be a much better man than he's made out to be. Even when all the evidence is pointing that way, and the European media have the courage to pick up on it, the US media steadfastly beat the drums for the other view, the tainted one. And the social-justice orgs buckle and fall like dominoes under the push of the Venezuelan media wingnuts, rather than show the expected brave dedication to truth.

Even National Geographic isn't immune! Their recent piece on him was done by the same woman who did this sleekly smarmy hatchet job in the New York Review of Books. When even the presumably apolitical geo- and litcrit-mags of the US lack the scruples (or the sense) to assign pieces to a journalist not hostile to him, can you seriously be surprised that even an alternative media piece on Truthdig (whose editors should know better than to publish such crap!) falls right in line with the lies of chief wingnut blogtard Alek Boyd, a.k.a. the Loco from London?

Well, to be honest...nothing about these people surprises me. The US media have never been the sharpest tools in the box. They've had some moments (the Washington Post's breakthroughs on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate being notable high points), but for the most part, it's been a snoozefest: heavy on transcribed press releases, sensational horrors that turn out to have been planted by the feds to whip up the sheeple for a wrongful war, and stale gossip--and otherwise light on anything that might actually fall under the rubric of "rigorous" or "hard-hitting". It's been getting steadily worse since Bush the Second invaded the Oval Office; everyone seems to be in a race to the bottom, or at least to be first on their knees before Chimpancito's open zipper. Only the alternative media is, for the most part, doing its job...and consequently, it's studiously ignored. Or, in the case of many pro-Chavez sites, it's actively denigrated by right-wing bloggers--whose dreck invariably lands a higher "relevancy" rating on Google than the original news site. WHY???

I have a sneaking suspicion that they've been taking more than a few leaves from Karl Rove's playbook. I mean, what else have they got but to lie and steal, and hope that someone eventually believes them, if the lies don't in fact turn magically into truth? The facts contradict them again and again and again. And the facts are as simple as this: Chavez is the best thing to happen to Venezuela since Simon Bolivar. That's not hyperbole. Bolivar got Venezuela out from under the imperial yoke of Spain; Chavez is now doing the same, only this time the empire is that of the United States, and it's not as overt. But it's every bit as tenacious. And much more dangerous. (Do I have to remind anyone about who runs the School of the Americas, and why?)

And what a shame: Now Unka Karl's in trouble at home.

Well, if he needs to go into "exile" (snicker), I bet he'd be quite welcome in the wealthier districts of Greater Caracas. After all, many of the denizens there are his ideological and tactical soulmates...

Rove, meet Plato. Plato, Rove!