Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nashville: A Little History

Nashville's skyline is dominated by the Bell South building, the tallest structure in the city. Known as "Music City", Nashville is a major music recording and production center, with all of the "Big Four" record labels (Sony, EMI, Universal and Warner), as well as numerous independent labels, having offices there.

Ryman auditorium, first opened in 1892 as a venue for gospel revivials, was the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Audiences here find themselves seated in the original pews, which has led to the building's nickname of "The Mother Church of Country Music". In December 1945, Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe (on mandolin) brought to the stage a band that created a new American musical form. With the banjo style of Earl Scruggs and the guitar of Lester Flatt, the new genre became known as "Bluegrass". Augmented by the fiddle of Chubby Wise and and the bass of Howard Watts (a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater), this ensemble became known as "The Original Bluegrass Band", which became the prototype for groups that followed.

This covered shopping mall, known as the Fifth Avenue Arcade, was built in 1903 and is modeled after an arcade in Italy. One of only a few such arcades that remain in the United States, this site, near the historic black business district, was the center of Nashville's civil rights movement in the 1960's.

Nashville: Building Murals

While Nashville has a fine selection of art museums and outdoor sculpture, its embrace of murals on the walls of its historic brick buildings really struck a chord with me. Combined with the proliferation of neon signs in the District (see below), they really contribute to the unique character of the city.

Nashville: Country Music Hall of Fame

Also toured the Country Music Hall of Fame near downtown Nashville. The building's exterior contains several symbolic images. The most obvious of these are the windows that look like the black keys of a piano. The diamond-shaped radio mast is a miniaturized replica of the WSM tower (an historic radio station which is credited with popularizing country music beginning in 1925 with its landmark weekly broadcast of the Grandy Ole Opry). The round discs surrounding the tower symbolize the different size records and CDs country music has been recorded upon. The north-west corner of the building juts out like the tail fin of a '57 Chevy.

For me, the highlight of the museum were Elvis Presley's gold-plated piano and the original sound mixing board from RCA's historic Studio B, where Elvis' first album was recorded. The studio later became famous in the 1960s for being a part of what many refer to as the "Nashville Sound". A pop-oriented style of country music characterized by background vocals and strings, the Nashville Sound both revived the popularity of country music and helped establish Nashville as an international recording center.

Nashville: The District

In an area of Nashville's downtown called "the District" you'll find a tightly-packed section of bars, shops and barbecue restaurants. Without too much trouble, you'll be able to find live country, bluegrass or blues music almost any time of the day.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Homeland Security Boozin' It Up

Apparently not wanting to be outdone by DOD, the Department of Homeland Security now has it's own "Halliburton". In just a few years, a no-bid contract with pricey consultant Booz Allen mushroomed from $2 million to a shocking $123 million.

In 2003, Booz Allen was given (without competition) a $2 million contract to help the new Department of Homeland Security quickly get an intelligence operation up and running. Over the next year, the cost of the no-bid arrangement soared by millions of dollars per month, as the firm provided analysts, administrators and other contract employees to the department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection offices.

By December 2004, payments to Booz Allen had exceeded $30 million -- 15 times the contract's original value. When department lawyers examined the deal, they found it was "grossly beyond the scope" of the original contract, and they said the arrangement violated government procurement rules. The lawyers advised the department to immediately stop making payments through the contract and allow other companies to compete for the work. But the required competition did not take place for more than a year. During that time, the payments to Booz Allen more than doubled again under a second no-bid arrangement-- to $73 million.

Elaine C. Duke, the department's chief procurement officer, defended the decision to issue a second no-bid contract as necessary to keep an essential intelligence operation running until a competition could be held. "It was the best out of the choices that we had on the table at the time," she said. "We couldn't have a gap in mission."

Booz Allen vice president Jack Mayer said his firm did quality work, followed federal rules and charged fair prices. Mayer said Booz Allen was prepared to compete with other companies for the work. He said the cost of the project ballooned because demands from the department's offices kept expanding. "What happened was the hours that people were working," he said. "It wasn't Booz Allen's fault."

The Wapo article details a long and excrutiatingly incompetent effort by Homeland Security officials to end their "addiction" to Booz Allen and allow other companies to bid on the work.

Last year, when Booz Allen was finally forced to compete against other firms for the business, Homeland Security had broken the work into five separate contracts. In total, those contracts were worth more than $50 million over a year's time. Booz Allen won them all.

Senator Stoner

Florida lawyer Norm Kent recently received a fund-raising letter from Minnesota Senator Norman Coleman (show right, in pictures taken about 30 years apart). The letter reads, in part: "I oppose the legalization of marijuana because, as noted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana can have serious adverse health affects on individuals. The health problems that may occur from this highly addictive drug include short-term memory loss, anxiety, respiratory illness and a risk of lung cancer that far exceeds that of tobacco products. It would also make our transportation, schools and workplaces, just as examples, more dangerous."

Kent, who is a board member of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), was taken aback by Coleman's comments. Why? It just so happens that Kent and Coleman were fellow campus radicals and marijuana fiends back at Hofstra University in the early 70's-- so Kent fired off a letter to his former smoking buddy:
My friend Norman. Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope. Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice.

We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later.

We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession.

You never said then that pot was dangerous. What was scary then, and is as frightening now, is when national leaders become voices of hypocrisy, harbingers of the status quo, and protect their own position instead of the public good. Welcome to the crowd of those who have become a likeness of which they despised. Welcome to the mindless myriad of legislators who gather in cocktail lounges to manhandle their martinis while passing laws against drunk driving.

We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot. We have endured generations of drug addicts overdosing on a multitude of drugs, from heroin to crystal methamphetamine. In your public life, as an attorney general, mayor and United States senator, you have been in the forefront of speaking out against abuses which are harmful. You have been a noble and honorable public servant. How about not being such a dope on dope?

How about admitting that if the Rockefeller drug laws were applied to Norman Bruce Coleman on Long Island in 1968, or to me, or to our friends, and fellow students, you, I and others we knew and loved might just be getting out of jail now? How about recognizing that for too long too many have been wrongly arrested, unjustly prosecuted and illegally incarcerated for unconscionable periods of time?

How about recognizing that you have peers who have smoked pot for 25 years or more and they are successful record producers, businessmen and parents? How about standing up and saying you have heard and witnessed countless stories of persons who have used pot medicinally, as I have, to endure the effects of chemotherapy? You who have travelled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS so up close and personal would deny medicinal marijuana relief to those souls wasting away from malnutrition, nausea and no access to fundamental medicines?

How about not adopting the sad and sorry archaic path of our office of drug control, which this week suggested pot smokers are more likely to become gang members than others? How about standing up and saying: "I, Norm Coleman, smoked pot in 1969." That "I am not a gang member, a drug addict or a criminal." How about saying: "I was able to responsibly integrate my prior pot use into my life, and still succeed on my own merits." How about standing up not only for who you are, but who you were? How about it, Norm?

I will always love, admire and cherish what you have achieved and accomplished and the goals you have met. I will always fondly look at the remarkable success of your present. How about you looking back at your past and saying: "What I did was not so wrong and not so bad and not so hurtful that generations of Americans should still, decades later, be going to jail for smoking pot - nearly one million arrests for possession last year."

Can't Norm Coleman come out of the closet in 2007 and say "These arrests are wrong - that there is a better way, and we need to find it." You might find more integrity and honor in that then adopting the sad and sorry policy of our Office of National Drug Control Policy. You might find the person you were.

The bombshell story started to get picked up by the media after Kent posted the letter to the internet. Let the fallout begin.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dude, You're Breathing's Interrupting My Sleeping

A German teenager turned off the life-support machine of a fellow hospital patient last week because he said he couldn't sleep with the noise.

Frederik Moelner's attempts to get some shut-eye were interrupted by the noisy machine that was keeping the 76-year-old in the neighboring bed breathing.

So the 17-year-old, who was recovering from a car accident, decided he had had enough of the beeps coming from Hermann Berghof's bed and decided to turn his life support off.

The medical staff at the hospital in Southern Germany quickly realized what had happened, and reconnected the lucky pensioner, who survived. A police spokesman said: "Luckily the medical staff acted promptly-- if there had been any delay the old man could have died."

The German teenager is now being questioned by police, who say the boy claims to have "just wanted some peace and quiet".

Advertising For Blind People

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Proverbial Flying Fuck

South Carolina police are investigating how a naked couple fell 50 feet from the roof of a downtown office building to their deaths.

The bodies were found on the road by a passing cabdriver around 5 a.m in the morning

Clothing was discovered on the roof, leading authorities to suspect the man and woman, in their early 20s, may have been having sex. Their identities were not released.

"It's too early to rule out anything," Columbia police Sgt. Florence McCants said, but McCants said a preliminary investigation didn't show any sign of foul play.

Freedom Of The Breast

A woman arrested for exposing her breasts has accepted a $29,000 settlement from the city, her lawyer said.

Jill Coccaro, 27, was arrested on a topless stroll two years ago, despite a 1992 state appeals court ruling that concluded women should have the same right as men to take off their shirts. Coccaro, who now goes by the name Phoenix Feeley, remained in custody for 12 hours before she was told prosecutors were not going to pursue charges.

Her attorney, Jeffrey Rothman, told the Daily News that his client won the civil rights settlement from the city, which did not admit or deny wrongdoing. "We hope the police learn a lesson and respect the rights of women to go topless," Rothman was quoted as saying in the Associated Press story.

Feeley told the New York Post that she was not treated well after her Aug. 4, 2005, arrest in Manhattan's Lower East Side section. She claimed in an October lawsuit that a police officer yanked her out of a patrol car by her hair and police took her to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

She told the newspaper she had gone bare-breasted after running the 2004 city marathon without police bothering her. "I've always just felt that was something natural," Feeley said of going topless. "I've kind of always done it out of practicality."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Exciting Career Opportunity

Naughty Bits

Want a custom sex doll, but don’t have $7,000 to shell out? No problem. Thanks to, you can build one with off-the-shelf parts for a fraction of the cost. Is this the ideal love doll or Bride of Frankenstein? You be the judge.

On their website, you can choose between a wide variety of mouths, breasts, hands, arms, vaginas, asses, penises and/or feet. The site then provides guidance on attaching your "accessories" to a life-sized mannequin and advice on the use of your custom "Miss or Mister Right".

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mysterious Kenyan Society Plagues Nairobi

Kihara Mwangi, a member of Kenya’s Parliament, recently disclosed that he had been kidnapped by the Mungiki, a secret society that is part Sicilian Mafia, part Chicago street gang, with a little of the occult sprinkled in. “These guys are devil worshipers,” he said. “And no one knows what they want.” Charity Bokindo, the district commissioner of North Nairobi North, carries two pistols wherever she goes, and always travels with armed guards. “The Mungiki,” she claims, “ have threatened to circumcise me.”

As detailed in a recent New York Times article, the Mungiki mystery is sweeping across Kenya, taking a lot of lives with it. In a month, more than 50 people have been killed in a crime spree and brutal police crackdown related to the shadowy outfit. Police officials say the Mungiki aim to destabilize the country before the presidential elections in December and blame them for some downright ugly acts: chopping off legs, skinning heads and guzzling jerrycans of human blood. Government officials accuse them of running an extortion empire and hacking up victims as a scare tactic.

The Mungiki Menace, as local papers call it, plays into many of Kenya’s sore spots: tribal frictions, political shenanigans, poverty and crime. The flash point is Mathare, a giant slum and mountain of rust near downtown Nairobi, the capital, where 500,000 people fill a warren of corrugated metal shanties.

Mathare is one of countless slums in Kenya that the government does not quite reach. There are no police stations here, or fire hydrants or roads. There are few toilets and the hillsides reek of fresh waste. Many of the dented metal kiosks advertise — in dripping hand-painted scrawl — paraffin for oil lamps, because despite the palatial homes in the neighborhood next door that light up like soccer stadiums at night, most Mathare dwellers have no electricity.

But the Mungiki did not start in Mathare. They came from the Kikuyu highlands north of Nairobi, that carpeted green, straight-off-a-postcard “Out of Africa” side of Kenya. According to Hezekiah Ndura Waruinge, one of the Mungiki’s founders, the group began as a local defense squad during land clashes in the late 1980s between forces loyal to the government, which was dominated by the Kalenjin tribe, and farmers who were Kikuyu, a rival tribe.

By the late 1990s, the Mungiki went urban, taking over the city’s minibus trade. Then they diversified into garbage collection, building materials and eventually the protection racket. “It was beautiful,” Waruinge says. “We had 500,000 members and millions of shillings coming in every day.”

But according to Waruinge, the Mungiki made a mistake and dabbled in politics-- supporting losing candidates in the elections of 2002 and falling on the wrong side of the government. Mungiki leaders were rounded up and charged with inciting violence. The Mungiki went underground, though they continued to levy protection taxes, electricity taxes and water taxes. They even gave receipts.

Mathare had been infested by muggers and drug dealers until the Mungiki came along and established a rough sense of order. But that order began to unravel last fall when the Mungiki tried to raise taxes on bootleggers who brew a toxic form of homemade alcohol, called changaa. The bootleggers armed a rival gang called the Taliban (no Muslim connection — the gang members just thought the name sounded cool) and the fighting between the sides killed more than a dozen people and drove thousands away.

In May, the Mungiki were suspected of beheading four defectors. Then the two officers were ambushed. The police responded by storming Mathare with machine guns and tear gas. More than 30 people were killed and hundreds arrested. Before the smoke cleared, accusations began to fly. Opposition members blamed the government for letting the Mungiki Menace spin out of control. Government ministers threatened to arrest opposition leaders, including a presidential candidate. Ms. Bokindo admitted the government was very worried. “They almost overwhelmed us,” she said.

The Mungiki seem dormant now on Mathare’s dirt boulevards. But several residents said that was not necessarily a good thing. Apparently, the muggings are back.

Sucking Air In China

The Beijing Olympics is only fifteen months away, and at the same time China is
wallowing in the toxic by-products of its lightning economic expansion, prompting fears for athletes and tourists who will travel there, as well as the Chinese population. Chronic water and air pollution caused by industrial toxins and pesticides mean cancer has risen to be China's leading killer, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths, according to recent reports.

At the same time, it was revealed that 40 of China's top athletes fell ill because of foul air-conditioning in the country's sports headquarters in January and have been forced to withdraw from competition. Filthy air-conditioning systems have been blamed for outbreaks of disease in hotels and apartment blocks in the capital.

Chinese authorities have promised to crack down on air-conditioning in Olympic hotels and sporting venues after a recent investigation by China's national broadcaster CCTV. It found many air-conditioning systems were rarely cleaned because it was cheaper to risk being inspected and paying the paltry fine, just 800 yuan ($130) in Shanghai, than spend tens of thousands of yuan maintaining the systems.

In one case, two tons of waste, including dead rats and takeout food left by construction workers, was collected when the ventilation system of a 19-story Beijing office building was cleaned recently for the first time since it was built in the early 1990s.

Many of the IOC’s major Olympic organizations either refuse to discuss the issue or deny that there is any concern at all. With large amounts of private and government funding, the major teams typically bring in their own bottled water and private supplies of food.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Voice Of Reason

A federal judge who used to authorize wiretaps in terrorist and espionage cases criticized President Bush's decision to order warrantless surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Royce Lamberth, a district court judge in Washington, said over the weekend it was proper for executive branch agencies to conduct such surveillance. But the judge disagreed with letting the executive branch alone decide which people to spy on in national security cases. "What we have found in the history of our country is that you can't trust the executive," he said at the American Library Association's convention.

"We have to understand you can fight the war (on terrorism) and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war," said Lamberth, who was appointed by President Reagan.

Lamberth was the chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court until 2002. The court, established in 1978 after a series of domestic spying scandals, meets in secret to review applications from the FBI, the National Security Agency and other agencies for warrants to wiretap or search the homes of people in the United States in terrorist or espionage cases.

Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without FISA court warrants. The administration said it needed to act more quickly than the court could and that the president had inherent authority under the Constitution to order warrantless domestic spying. After the program became public and was challenged in court, Bush was forced to put it under FISA court supervision this year. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.

Lambert also criticized FBI Director Robert Mueller for allowing the agents in charge of all 56 FBI field offices to approve National Security Letters. These allow agents to demand information from phone companies, Internet service providers and corporations without court warrants in national security cases.

The Justice Department's inspector general recently estimated there were 3,000 violations of law between 2002 and 2005 in the FBI's use of National Security letters.

"Once they saw how the field offices had screwed this all up, I thought that would be a good time to centralize the approvals" in one Washington office that could enforce the rules uniformly, Lamberth said. "Unfortunately, Mueller and (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales did not do that."

Brisbane Babe Blades Bishop-Bashing Boyfriend

A Brisbane woman stabbed a male friend twice in the shower after he refused to stop masturbating in front of her children, according to a report on the Australian Age web site.

Defense lawyers for Kylie Louise Wilson, 28, said the mother of two "lost it" when her friend of six years, Daniel Peter Blair, went on a masturbation marathon.

According to cour testimony, Blair showed up at Wilson's apartment and took some amphetamines before jumping into the shower. In the shower, the 32-year-old Blair began pleasuring himself. Afterward, he moved the action to Wilson's bedroom, where he rolled around naked on her bed and continued whacking off. He returned to the bathroom and was in the middle of a third session when he was busted by Wilson, who wanted to give a bath to her three-and-a-half year-old daughter.

Blair refused her repeated requests to stop, prompting her to fetch a knife from the kitchen-- which she used to stab him twice in the left shoulder.

Blair paused only to put on his shorts and flee outside. While waiting for the police to arrive, he was again overcome by the urge. "Despite his injury, [Blair] continued to masturbate while in the garage," the prosecutor told the court.

Police took him to hospital where he received treatment for the minor stab wounds. Wilson pleaded guilty to one count each of unlawful wounding and wilful damage.

Her defense attorney, Mark Johnson, said Wilson regarded Blair as a "tolerably decent person" when he was not using drugs, but had become "extremely protective" of her daughter under the circumstances. "He was in and out and round about, doing this sort of thing all over the house," Johnson said.

"She just lost it, to put it crudely." Wilson was sentenced to nine months' jail but ordered that she be immediately released on parole.

Bengali Bone Brokers Busted; Bhutan Buddhist Buyers Bothered

Indian police have discovered a stash of hundreds of human skulls and thigh bones and arrested a gang for allegedly smuggling them to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan for use in Buddhist monasteries.

"During interrogation they confessed that the hollow human thigh bones were in great demand in monasteries and were used as blow-horns, and the skulls as vessels to drink from at religious ceremonies," investigating officer Ravinder Nalwa said. "The skeletons seized in Jaigaon had all come from Varanasi's cremation centers and all these years we thought they were just going secretly to medical students," he added.

It was the second cache of bones found in eastern India since April and police now believe the region could be the center of a much broader trade in human bones. They suspect some bones may even have ended up as far away as Thailand and Japan, according to the Reuters story.

Eastern India was once a thriving center for the export of human skeletons, which were sent as far as western Europe, former traders in Kolkata said. But the federal government banned the exports in the late 1980s after human rights groups raised questions about how the bones were being collected, forcing the trade underground.

Mukti Biswas, an arrested villager in another district of West Bengal state, told police that he had plucked bodies from the river, as well as collecting those left behind at Hindu cremation centers by poor people who lacked the wood to perform a proper cremation.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Gangs of Guatemala

Thousands of angry Guatemalans beat a woman to death and set another on fire on suspicion they had killed a young girl and stolen her organs to sell them, according to an Associated Press story.

Nine-year-old Mishel Diaz disappeared from her home in Camotan, a town near the border with Honduras, last Thursday and her mutilated body was discovered a day later abandoned on a dirt track. Her arm was cut off, eyes gouged out and body carved up, with the skin on her chest removed in what looked like an attempt to steal her heart and kidneys, said town police chief Enrique Lemus.

An angry mob wielding rocks and sticks went house to house looking for three women they thought committed the murder. “Some neighbors said they saw one woman kidnap the little girl. That’s how they figured these women were responsible,” Lemus said. “Then at least 2,000 people went out looking for them. It was the entire town.”

The furious horde beat 24-year-old Marciana Recinos to death in the town square. Police rescued the other two women but only after the mob doused one woman with gasoline and set her on fire. She is now recovering in hospital and the third woman is in jail.

There is a deep fear in rural Guatemala of children being stolen to sell them or their organs for transplants, although this is often based on rumor and unfounded stories. Lynch mobs have killed hundreds of people in the poor Central American country since 1996, when it signed peace accords to end a 36-year civil war that left a quarter of a million people dead or missing. Many experts blame the vigilante justice on exposure to violence during the war, combined with a lack of faith in the crumbling criminal justice system.

Fighting Hate With Hate

On Friday, the Today show had a story on Anti-Catholic bias in the media. Who did they serve up as an expert on bigotry? None other than Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League. Here's a sampling of Bill Donohue's views:

On jews: "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah. Hollywood likes anal sex."

On AIDS: "Name for me a book publishing company in this country, particularly in New York, which would allow you to publish a book which would tell the truth about the gay death style."

On movie critics who didn't like Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ": "The new Puritans don't seem to worry about [15-year-olds who obtain abortions without parental consent]. They like gay sex. They like [the film] "The Dreamers", a brother and sister who bathe together and stuff like that. The same people in The New York Times who say that [Gibson's] movie isn't really right for kids, they have no problems when it comes to sodomy. It's smoking they don't like and Catholicism."

On gay people against abortion: "I remember when [Dean Hamer] came up with this idea of the gay gene. Gays were all of a sudden worrying if people would start aborting kids when they found out the DNA suggested the kid might be gay. God forbid we'd run out of little gay kids, so all of a sudden, they became pro-life."

I guess it takes a bigot to know one.

More Cheney Chicanery

House Democrats on Thursday denounced Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to abolish a government office charged with safeguarding national security information — and criticized him for refusing to cooperate with the agency.

Cheney's office — over the objections of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives — has exempted itself from a presidential executive order intended to safeguard national security information, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Under the order, executive branch offices are required to disclose how much material it has classified and declassified.

Cheney's office provided the information to the Archives in 2001 and 2002, then stopped. According to Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, Cheney's office claims it need not comply with the executive order because it is not an "entity within the executive branch."

"Your decision to except your office from the president's order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk," Waxman wrote in a letter to Cheney. Megan McGinn, a spokeswoman for the vice president, said Cheney's office was not breaking the law, but did not elaborate. "We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law," she said.

The ISOO has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the legal dispute over whether the order applies to Cheney's office. So far, the Justice Department has not ruled on the issue.

J. William Leonard, director of the ISOO, said that after he sought advice from the Justice Department, Cheney's office recommended that the executive order be amended to abolish the ISOO. Leonard also disclosed that in 2004, Cheney's office blocked the archives from doing an onsite inspection of his office-- an inspection that is intended to ensure that classified information was being properly protected.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June Is Bustin' Out All Over

A crowd in Austin, Texas attacked and killed a passenger in a vehicle that had struck and injured a child, police said Wednesday.

Police believe 2,000 to 3,000 people were in the area for a Juneteenth celebration when the attack occurred Tuesday night. The man who was killed had been trying to stop the group from attacking the vehicle's driver when the crowd turned on him, authorities said.

The Austin Police Department identified the victim as David Rivas Morales, 40. The child was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Police spokeswoman Toni Chovonetz said she had no further information, including how many people were involved. The driver who was able to get away is now cooperating with investigators, police said.

This incident follows on the heels of a report from the Milwaukee police that a 33-year-old man has a broken tooth and cuts all over his face after a group of teenagers pulled him from his car and beat him following a Juneteenth celebration in that city.

It happened a few blocks away from Milwaukee's Juneteenth street festival. Police say hundreds of teenagers started kicking the man's car. The man who was pulled from his car was treated and released from a local hospital. No details were released regarding the teens' motive.

Juneteenth marks the day Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston in 1865 to share news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves two years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863.

Reason Not To Quit Smoking

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pussy By Prada

One of the world's most prestigious health journals has lashed out against a fast-growing trend for "designer vaginas," the tabloid term for cosmetic surgery to the female genitalia.
The fashion is being driven by commercial and media pressures that exploit women's insecurities and is fraught with unknowns, including a risk to sexual arousal, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says.

Known as elective genitoplasty, the surgery usually entails shortening or changing the shape of the outer lips, or labia, but may also include reduction in the hood of skin covering the clitoris or shortening the vagina itself. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the practice is spreading fast in the United States as well as in Britain, but the picture is unclear, the BMJ says.

Not only is there a disturbing lack of data about the phenomenon, there has been negligible assessment about surgical after-effects -- and almost no consideration over whether a labial "problem" exists in the first place, the BMJ says angrily. In 2004-5, 800 "labial reductions" were conducted by Britain's state-run National Health Service (NHS),
more than a doubling of the figure of six years earlier. Other operations were carried out by the private sector, although the full figures are unknown.

According to the article on, the authors of the article, London gynaecologist Sarah Creighton and clinical psychologist Lih Mei Liao, conducted their own small-scale probe into why women sought this surgery. "Our patients sometimes cited restrictions on lifestyle as reasons for their decision," they say. "These restrictions included inability to wear tight clothing, go to the beach, take communal showers or ride a bicycle comfortably, or avoidance of some sexual practices.

"Men, however, do not usually want the size of their genitals reduced for such reasons. Furthermore, they find alternative solutions for any discomfort arising from rubbing or chaffing of the genitals." Patients who sought genitoplasty "uniformly" wanted their vulvas to be flat and with no protrusion, similar to the prepubescent look of girls in Western fashion ads, they found.

"Not unlike presenting for a haircut at a salon, women often brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance," say Creighton and Liao. "The illustrations, usually from advertisements or pornography, are always selective and possibly digitally altered."

Plastic surgery to the labia carries risks, for this zone carries nerve fibres that are highly sensitive and are a key pathway of sexual arousal, the article warns sternly. "Incision to any part of the genitalia could compromise sensitivity," it says.

The BMJ piece suggests genitoplasty is a classic example of where commercial, media and social pressures artificially create a problem, fuel concern over it and then put forward a solution for it. "There is nothing unusual about protrusion of the
labia," it says. "It is the negative meaning that makes it into a problem -- meanings that can give rise to physical, emotional and behavioural reactions, such as discomfort, self-disgust, perhaps avoidance of some activities and a desire for a surgical fix."

Wired For Disaster

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tard Boom In Border Town

In a dusty neighborhood on the Arizona-Utah border, a rare genetic disorder is spreading through polygamous families via a wave of inbreeding.

The twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., have the world’s highest known prevalence of fumarase deficiency, an enzyme irregularity that causes severe mental retardation brought on by cousin marriage, doctors say.

The community of about 10,000 people, who shun outsiders and are taught to avoid newspapers, television and the Internet, is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a sect that broke from the mainstream Mormon church 72 years ago over polygamy.

The group, who wear conservative 19th-century clothing, is led by Warren Jeffs, who was arrested in August and charged as an accomplice to rape for using his authority to order a 14-year-old girl against her wishes to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin.

Doctors in the area declined requests for interviews and families refuse to talk to reporters. But former FLDS members, independent doctors and authorities say the disorder appears to have struck at least 20 children in the past 15 years.

“The disease itself is very rare in the rest of the world,” said Dr. Vinodh Narayanan of Arizona’s St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center and Barrow Neurological Institute. Doctors worldwide had only studied about 10 cases just a decade ago.

“Once you get people within the same community marrying, then the chances grow of having two people carrying the exact same mutation.”

Read more details here.

Who Needs The Weather Channel?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Boston: Beer Time

At the top: the grave of Samuel Adams at the Old Granary Burying Ground on Tremont street. But not to worry-- beer is not dead; all this touring makes one thirsty. To be avoided at all costs (unfortunately) is the "Cheers" pub on Beacon Hill. It's tiny and full of redneck tourists, and the beer's expensive also. At the bottom is the Green Dragon pub, where revolutionary colonists went drinking either shortly before or after the Boston Tea Party-- I can't remember which, I was drinking too much.

Boston: A Little History

At the top: the very touristy Faneuil Hall (a former colonial meetinghouse), with a statue of Samuel Adams in the front, and the clock tower of the old Customs House in the background. Bottom: the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), the world's oldest commissioned warship.

Boston: Aquarium Part II

Sorry-- none of the penguins shots were very interesting-- instead, a couple of pix from the aquarium's tropical collection.

Boston: Sunset Views

At the top, a view of Beacon Hill, the Longfellow Bridge and East Cambridge. At the bottom, a view of Fenway Park (extreme left) and the Charles River.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Boston: The Aquarium

Boston's Aquarium is in the North End-- although not nearly as cool as Baltimore's, it featured a penguin colony. More pics on that later.

Boston: Fenway Park

Saw Barry Bonds go 0-for-3 at Fenway Park on Saturday. The Red Sox Nation booed him unmercifully each and every time he stepped on the field. There were many bars within shouting distance of the park, all of them packed with Bostonians before and after the game. The Cask 'n Flagon (just outside the left outfield wall) was the craziest-- the line was around the block to get in after the game.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Original Hotel California

You can check in any time you want, but you will never leave. At least that's what people staying at the Mukti Bhawan hostel hope for. They have a strict policy-- guests have two weeks to die or else they are asked to leave.

The hostel -- a short walk from the Ganges river in the northern Indian city of Varanasi -- is a final stopover for elderly Hindus hoping they will shortly end up on one of the hundreds of funeral pyres lit on the riverbank each day.

"While the rest of the world celebrates a new life when a child is born, similarly we celebrate death," said Bhairav Nath Shukla, the cheerful manager of Mukti Bhawan, one of several places offering shelter to outsiders wanting to die in the city.
Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi and having their remains scattered in the Ganges allows their soul to escape a cycle of death and rebirth, attaining "moksha" or salvation. But for those making that most final of pilgrimages to the city, orthodox hotels and guesthouses can be expensive, and, as Shukla points out, most are reluctant to welcome guests on the very brink of death who do not plan to check out alive.

Mukti Bhawan -- or "Salvation House" -- offers 12 bare, tatty rooms arranged around a courtyard in a 100-year-old red-brick building with green shutters.
The atmosphere is far from sombre. "Here we witness the deaths, the wailing shrieks, the chaos on a daily basis, so where is the fear?" said Shukla. "There will be another life after this, so there is no basis for fear. Crying over this is foolishness."

Check out the article for more details.

Let The Bastard Die

The Port Arthur killer should be allowed to die following several attempts to kill himself in his prison cell, euthanasia advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke says.

Martin Bryant, Australia's worst mass murderer, is serving 35 life sentences for the 1996 killings of 35 people at Tasmania's historic Port Arthur penal settlement, in the world's worst mass murder by a lone gunman.

Bryant has made at least five suicide attempts in Tasmania's Risdon Prison and has been treated at hospital twice this year after slashing himself with disposable razor blades.
Tasmania's Director of Prisons Graeme Barber earlier this year confirmed that on one occasion Bryant secreted a blade in his body and later recovered it to slash his neck. The murderer has also swallowed a rolled-up tube of toothpaste.

"The sole goal of his (Bryant's) imprisonment is punishment and punishment without hope of release is tantamount to torture," Dr. Nitschke has said. "As a society we should admit we are sanctioning torture here and in those circumstances we should allow him to die or provide him with the means to obtain a peaceful death."

Check out the Sunday Telegraph article for an interesting and/or amusing (depending on your point of view) set of comments from Australian readers.

Landed Safely In Boston

Well, I arrived safe and sound at Logan airport, unlike the unfortunate bastards in the above photo. Maybe I'll try to post some pics tomorrow or Monday.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Captain Is The Last To Jump Ship

In bullimic fashion, the purging at DOJ goes on. A senior Justice Department official who helped carry out the dismissals of federal prosecutors announced today that he is resigning. Mike Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, is the fifth Justice official to leave after being linked to the dismissals of the prosecutors.

Elston has been accused of threatening several of the eight fired U.S. attorneys to keep quiet about their ousters. In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said Elston was leaving voluntarily to take a job with an unnamed Washington-area law firm.

Senator Schumer seemed to size up the situation quite approprately: "Alberto Gonzales appears to be the last man standing but he should have been the first to go."

Update: The president finally signed the "Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007", which finally revokes that part of the Patriot Act which allowed DOJ to appoint U.S. Attorneys without Sentate oversight. See Red Wing's blog on the Daily Kos for a good timeline and breakdown of the issue.

Squirrels On The Attack

An aggressive squirrel attacked and injured three people in a German town before a 72-year-old pensioner dispatched the rampaging animal with his crutch.

The squirrel first ran into a house in the southern town of Passau, leapt from behind on a 70-year-old woman, and sank its teeth into her hand, according to police. With the squirrel still hanging from her hand, the woman ran onto the street in panic, where she managed to shake it off.

The animal then entered a building site and jumped on a construction worker, injuring him on the hand and arm, before he managed to fight it off with a measuring pole.

"After that, the squirrel went into the 72-year-old man's garden and massively attacked him on the arms, hand and thigh," the spokesman said. "Then he killed it with his crutch."

The spokesman said experts thought the attack may have been linked to the mating season or because the squirrel was ill.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Check Between The Cushions

Poland's 1,200 troops assigned to NATO forces in Afghanistan will not achieve full combat readiness for up to several weeks due to stolen vehicle keys, the defense ministry said last week.

"We had been told a 10 percent theft rate was likely in convoys brought in from Pakistan, but we had not expected the spare car keys to go missing," defense ministry spokesman Jaroslaw Rybak told reporters.

"We shall have to send away for spares, so it may take from several days to several weeks for our contingent to become combat ready."

According to media reports, Polish troops taking part in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have been assigned to patrol the mountainous border area with Pakistan to search for Taliban guerrilla activity. The military vehicles used by Polish forces include Poland's Land Rover-like Honkers and U.S.-built Humvees.

Tequila's The Perfect Rehydration Regimen

A soon-to-open Near West Side fitness parlor that specializes in the new exercise craze of pole-dancing can serve liquor after workouts, a City Council committee decided last week, as the local alderman bemoaned the fact that no men are allowed.

Alderman Walter Burnett said he’s all for lifting a moratorium on new liquor licenses to allow Flirty Girl Fitness to serve booze during weekend bachelorette parties and quarterly bashes.

But, Burnett said, “Unfortunately, none of us can go there.” “Sounds like we need a field trip by the committee before we vote," replied Ald. Tom Tunney. Referring to the fact that Tunney is Chicago’s first openly gay alderman, Burnett shot back, “They will not let any men in — of any persuasion.”

Kerry Knee, owner of Flirty Girl Fitness, said there’s good reason for the women-only edict at a place tailor-made for the “Desperate Housewives” market. Women feel “very insecure” learning how to do a “sexy pole dance” or a dance-on-the-bar “Coyote Ugly routine” when they know men are watching. “It kills the vibe,” said Knee, whose fitness parlor is scheduled to open June 20 and offer 30 different classes. “A lot of men are dying to come in. I hear it all the time. [They say], ‘Can I be your towel boy?’ It creates a kind of mystique.”

The pole-dancing craze gained steam when it was featured recently on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” According to Knee, the allure is part atmosphere, part break-the-boredom. “It’s wildly entertaining. It’s the un-gym. It doesn’t look like a typical gym. It’s very bling, very high-end designer. Chandeliers everywhere. All the towels are pink,” Knee said.

“When you go in, everyone is laughing, clapping, cheering and having a great time. You don’t feel like you’ve worked out. But, you’re getting in fantastic shape.”


Have They Invented Stupidity Detectors Yet?

This from Seattle's the City of Seattle may ban employees from making microwave popcorn. A memo from the Fleets and Facilities Department addressed to "Employees at Civic Center Buildings" says there has been several evacuations in recent years due smoke alarms being tripped by burning popcorn.

The memo states that in the past three years, there have been eight evacuations at the Justice Center, which includes jail cells and courtrooms, because of burnt popcorn. That's more than 400 people evacuated each time. There have also been several evacuations at City Hall and Seattle Municipal Tower because of the overcooked treat.

The memo states that if the problem continues, there will be a microwave popcorn ban in downtown City buildings. Each evacuation shuts down the buildings for 30 – 40 minutes.

The memo also gives employees tips on how to prevent the problem, such as following the package instructions and staying by the microwave to know when the popcorn is done.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Checkbook Christianity

Today, the Vatican announced that it is urging all Catholics to stop donating money to Amnesty International, because it promotes abortion.

In an unrelated story, the Daily Dude announces that he is urging all Catholics to stop donating money to the Catholic church, because it promotes the spread of AIDS and encourages discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Camille on Campaigns, Crooks and Culture

If it's the second Wednesday of the month, it's time for more Camille. Click on the link at the top of my blog for a link to her past columns-- but here's a few choice excerpts from this week's column:

As a global warming agnostic, I dislike the way that Gore's preachy, apocalyptic fundamentalism has fomented an atmosphere of hysteria around this issue and potentially compromised the long-term credibility of environmentalism. Democrats who long for his return as the anti-Hillary may not realize how Gore has become a risible cartoon character for much of the country at large. Anyone who listens to talk radio has been repeatedly regaled by clips of Gore bizarrely going off the deep end at one speech or another.
. . .
The embarrassingly limited knowledge of the Middle East possessed by this administration when it recklessly launched the Iraq invasion will be the subject of endless future histories. The president naively relied on arrogant advisors with their own covert agendas, above all Vice President Dick Cheney, who despite his impaired health and recurrent medical emergencies, remains the obstinate mastermind of our continued, costly presence in Iraq. This administration has morphed into Salvador Dali's horrifying 1936 painting, "Soft Construction With Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War" -- a barbaric spectacle of rage, self-destruction and decay.

. . .

What links the Lohan and Hilton cases is the weird behavior of the parents -- either flaky and dysfunctional or overbearing and coddling. The Lohan and Hilton mothers seem to reject aging by trying to keep their daughters in developmental limbo. Paris in particular seems to have become a psychic prisoner, turned into a flash-frozen marzipan doll by her belligerently benevolent mom. Neither family is typical, of course, but are the Hiltons exposing an unhealthy symbiosis in recent American family life? Adulthood keeps getting postponed for white middle-class girls, who even after they arrive at college are obsessively linked by umbilical cellphones to their hovering parents, who want to shield their progeny from all of life's nicks and scrapes.

Guerillas vs. Gorillas

The Daily Mail reports that wildlife rangers are battling to save an orphaned baby mountain gorilla found clinging to her dead mother in the Congo. The adult gorilla had been shot a point-blank range in the back of the head.

The two-month-old, who has been named Ndakasi by conservationists looking after her in Goma, is taking baby formula from a feeding bottle. "She's more or less OK. It is certainly a worrying situation, but not hopeless," Paulin Ngobobo, senior warden in eastern Congo's Virunga National Park.

Ndakasi, who was born on April 15, would normally have suckled for up to three years. Only 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild, more than half of them in Virunga.

At least two have been killed and eaten already this year by rebels living off the land as militia fighting drags on despite the official end of Congo's five-year war in 2003. It is unclear who had killed the adult female or why. She had been killed "execution-style" in the back of the head and left at the scene rather than taken away to be eaten, said Emmanuel de Merode of conservation group Wildlife Direct. "It looks like she was lured with bananas because we found bananas at the site.

"A second gorilla was probably shot because there was a trail of blood nearby and three gunshots were heard. The other was probably wounded and got away," he said. "There are militia groups there. This particular incident was in the Mikeno sector, which is on the border of Rwanda. There was a lot of fighting in that area in January and those problems have not entirely been solved."

Last month Wildlife Direct said Mai Mai rebels had attacked patrol posts in Virunga park, killing one wildlife officer and critically injuring three others, and threatened to slaughter gorillas if park rangers retaliated. More than 150 rangers have been killed in the last decade while protecting Congo's parks from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions, working through the war without pay.

Just In Case Food Poisoning Wouldn't Kill People Fast Enough

The BBC reported this week on yet another situation involving China's disregard for public health and safety. Chinese investigators are now saying that nearly 60 hospitals and pharmacies in northeastern China have been using fake blood plasma in patients' IV drips. Blood plasma (a.k.a., blood protein or albumin) is used during surgery, as well as to treat patients suffering from shock or severe burns.

Experts suggest that the fake product could be life-threatening for those already in a serious condition. This scandal is the latest to expose weaknesses in China's regulation of food and drug standards. See my originals posts on the Chinese toothpaste story here and here.

The food and drug administration in the northeastern state of Jilin found 18 hospitals and more than 30 pharmacies were selling fake batches of plasma. Officials did not say whether anyone had died or fallen ill through using the false protein, though one Chinese newspaper said it had led to one death.

The Chinese government said its investigations had "effectively cleaned up the market". China has recently launched a nationwide clampdown on counterfeit products in response to a series of scandals that has provoked the international community. In one of the worst cases, 13 babies died from malnutrition after being fed fake baby milk. Last month the country's top food and drug regulator was sentenced to death for taking bribes to approve medicines not properly tested for safety.

Toothpaste, anti-malarial drugs and pet food have also been found to contain contaminated or fake ingredients. The tainted toothpaste has been blamed for dozens of deaths in Panama.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Snoop Dogs" Get A Bad Rap

Two Thai street mutts who became top-notch sniffer dogs at an airport near the notorious "Golden Triangle" opium-producing region have been fired for urinating on luggage and sexually harassing female passengers.

The pair, Mok and Lai, had been plucked from obscurity under a program initiated by King Bhumibol Adulyadej to turn strays into police dogs, the Bangkok Post reported last weekend.

Although they won plaudits from police for their work in sniffing out drugs at northern Thailand's Chiang Rai airport (near the border with Laos and Myanmar), so many passengers complained about their behavior they had to be fired.

"He liked to pee on luggage while searching for drugs inside," Mok's former handler, Police Lieutenant Colonel Jakapop Kamhon, said. "He also liked to hold on to women's legs."

"Both were just as good as foreign dogs trained for use in drug missions," he added. "But they were stray dogs, so their manners were worse than those of foreign breeds." Mok and Lai now work on a farm, herding chickens and pigs.

Caught Googling On Google

Monday, June 11, 2007

CNN: Contrived Nigerian News

According to a report being circulated on the blogosphere (and assiduously avoided by the mainstream media), a CNN reporter has been fired for paying money to Nigerian resistance fighters to stage a phony story. Even worse, it was his steamy long-distance affair with a Swiss author that gave him away.

For months, CNN's Jeff Koinange had been dogged by allegations that in February, he paid off gunmen to put on a show for a story about Nigerian resistance. The accusations from Nigerian government officials were so strong that CNN gave a denial during a February broadcast. "CNN did not pay for or stage any part of the report," anchor John Roberts said. "CNN does not pay for interviews."

The accusations would have ended there, perhaps-- if Koinage's love affair had not ended also.

In an email to CNN President Jim Walton, author Marianne Briner (who has a questionable past herself, according to the same reports) said that she began writing to Koinange last August, about a book she'd written on the killing of a Kenyan government minister. "Soon after, he started to call me and things changed to very private and personal matters," Briner admitted. A face-to-face meeting apparently led to sex and then to a long-distance correspondence. Koinange used his CNN e-mail address to communicate with Briner.

At that time, Koinange told Briner via email that he was consequently scolded for talking dirty via his CNN email account. "I have been reprimanded by CNN from e-mailing anything other than the basics," he admitted in one exchange. But in another email, Koinage also confessed that he did indeed trade cash for the Nigerian story (as alleged by the Nigerian government).

"Of course I had to pay certain people to get the story," Koinange says, according to the e-mail. "But you do not get such a story without bribing . . . You have to have financial resources. But at the end, it was worth it. CNN has its story and I have my 'fame.' "

After about a month, the married CNN reporter broke off the affair. Soon thereafter, the Swiss author launched a blog that detailed her affair with Koinage and his alleged admissions. On her blog, "Distant Lovers," Briner wrote: "Jeff should have known that this could one day create a problem. But obviously, he did not regard this [as] serious."

Of course, Briner's blog mysteriously disappeared the minute this story broke, so you'll have to content yourselves with excerpts from this site.

Slander-in-Chief To The Rescue

Here's a nice editorial from on how our illustrious leaders George and Dick (GAD) might have unintentionally played a part in the recent Appeals court ruling against the FCC. In that case, the Courth of Appeals ruled in favor of broadcasters, saying that the FCC's enforcement policy on fleeting occurrences of expletives was arbitrary and capricious. But then comes the good part:

"In recent times, even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced 'sexual or excretory organs or activities'"--the definition of indecency that the FCC and the courts have used. The decision cited Bush's remark to British Prime Minister Tony Blair last summer, in front of a live mike, that Syria needed to "get Hizballah to stop doing this shit," as well as Cheney's hearty invitation to Senator Patrick Leahy, "Go fuck yourself." (The court could have cited Bush's remark, later reported by TIME, from March 2002 when war in Iraq was allegedly still a last resort: "Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out.")

The fact that Bush sometimes curses may seem irrelevant, but the "community standard" is one of the most important factors in legally determining indecency. What's good for Dubya, the court ruled, is good for the debutante. And while the ruling immediately applied to "fleeting" profanities, it could have broad implications for the FCC's ability to limit naughty talk on broadcast TV and radio in general.

Thank GAD for something.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell": A Matter Of Pride?

You should read this op-ed piece from last Friday's New York Times. It was written by Stephen Benjamin, a former petty officer second class in the Navy-- he was kicked out of the Navy under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. As he puts it:

My story begins almost a year ago when my roommate, who is also gay, was deployed to Falluja. We communicated the only way we could: using the military’s instant-messaging system on monitored government computers. These electronic conversations are lifelines, keeping soldiers sane while mortars land meters away.

Then, last October the annual inspection of my base, Fort Gordon, Ga., included a perusal of the government computer chat system; inspectors identified 70 service members whose use violated policy. The range of violations was broad: people were flagged for everything from profanity to outright discussions of explicit sexual activity. Among those charged were my former roommate and me. Our messages had included references to our social lives — comments that were otherwise unremarkable, except that they indicated we were both gay.

I could have written a statement denying that I was homosexual, but lying did not seem like the right thing to do. My roommate made the same decision, though he was allowed to remain in Iraq until the scheduled end of his tour.

The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The 68 other — heterosexual — service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn’t consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.

If the recruitment effort is getting so desperate, why are we excluding people who are willing to serve? In April, the Pentagon announced that their annual budget for recruitment bonuses had exceeded $1 billion dollars-- a six-fold increase since 2003. The reason for the increase is not because there are more soldiers eligible for reinlistment. It's because DOD simply cannot recruit enough new soldiers, and it has to resort to out-and-out bribery to keep existing soldiers from quitting. As Benjamin writes in his editorial, DOD shouldn't be kicking out folks who have skills critical to the intelligence effort:

The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

According to the Benjamin, more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. In response to difficult recruiting prospects, the Army has already taken a number of steps-- lengthening soldiers’ deployments from 12 to 15 months, enlisting felons and extending the age limit to 42.

I don't know about you all-- but if I was a soldier in Iraq, I wouldn't want to put my life in the hands of a felon.

Speaking Of Kelly Osbourne, By The Way . . .

A terrified gamekeeper had a lucky escape after he managed to sprint to safety from a charging hippopotamus.

The dangerous beast chased the ranger for more than 300 feet before it stopped for a rest at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

Hippos keep a strict watch over their territory and threaten anyone who invade them. Their teeth are as sharp as razor blades and they kill more people every year than any other African animal. Which is ironic, given that they are vegetarians and feed exclusively on grass.

The aggressive animals weigh up to two tons and have been known to reach speeds of up to 30 mph on land.

Beyonce, Kelly Osbourne Need Not Apply

For women hoping to become hostesses at next year's Olympic Games medal ceremonies, here come the criteria: no tattoos, no big bottoms, and cut down on the earrings.

Tattoos and earrings tend to look sleazy, while big bottoms could stick out too much, state media reported last week, quoting officials selecting candidates for medal ceremonies and other protocol activities.

Selection is currently under way to find hostesses for Olympic test events taking place later this year and early next year in the run-up to the August, 2008 Games in the Chinese capital. According to the Beijing News, 208 hostesses are needed for 23 test events in a selection process which, although separate from the Olympics next year, offers successful candidates hope of being considered for the Games.

"We don't want anyone who looks in any way sleazy because that could really put athletes off," said Li Ning, principal of Beijing Institute of Protocol, who is heading the selection process.

She said experts were looking for women of uniform height with neat bottoms and minus body art and ear studs. Glossy skin was another asset. "Bone structure and height should be uniform," she said. "For example, we don't want any wide bottoms."

Bum's Away!

A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials confirmed to the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb." As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop a chemical weapon containing strong aphrodisiacs, especially those that would also cause homosexual behavior.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soliders to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," according to Edward Hammond of Berkley's Sunshine project.
"The notion was that a chemical that would probably be pleasant in the human body in low quantities could be identified, and by virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical, the notion was that soliders would become gay," explained Hammond.

"The Department of Defense is committed to identifying, researching and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform," said a DOD spokesperson, who indicated that the "gay bomb" idea was quickly dismissed. However, Hammond said the government records he obtained suggest the military gave the plan much stronger consideration than it has acknowledged.

"The truth of the matter is it would have never come to my attention if it was dismissed at the time it was proposed," he said. "In fact, the Pentagon has used it repeatedly and subsequently in an effort to promote non-lethal weapons, and in fact they submitted it to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider."

Gay community leaders in California said Friday that they found the notion of a "gay bomb" both offensive and almost laughable at the same time. "It's just offensive that they think by turning people gay that the other military would be incapable of doing their job," said Geoff Kors of Equality California. "Its absurd because there's so much medical data that shows that sexual orientation is immutable and cannot be changed."

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Piling On

Pirates of the Netherlands

A gay gang that allegedly raped victims lured on the internet, drugged them and infected them with the AIDS virus has shocked the Netherlands and raised questions over its liberal sex culture. The matter came to light when police said they had arrested three men two weeks ago after four victims, men aged 25 to 50, accused them of rape and premeditated bodily harm.

Ronald Zwarter, the police chief in the northern town of Groningen, where the alleged crimes took place, said two of those arrested, a couple aged 48 and 33, had confessed.

"Their stated motive was that it excited them – and also that, the more HIV-infected people there were, the better their chances of [being able to have] unprotected sex," he said. "They considered unprotected relations to be 'pure'."

A fourth man who allegedly supplied the three suspects with several liters of the date-rape drug GHB and ecstasy tablets was also arrested. According to police and prosecutors, eight more victims have come forward since the case was publicized.

Officials said the three HIV-positive men contatcted potential victims on the internet and invited them to private homosexual orgies. When the victims turned up, they were allegedly given ecstasy and GHB (which is undetectable when mixed in drinks), leaving them helpless and, in some cases, with no memory of what happened. The three suspects – one of whom is a male nurse – were said to have raped the men, and even injected some of them with a mix of their contaminated blood.

Check out the story here for more details.

Deflector Shields For Farts

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 58 million Americans suffer from one or more medical disorders that cause excessive gas. To treat it, doctors usually recommend a change in diet. Sometimes they recommend medication-- such as Gas-X or Bean-O, which alters the bacteria that may be causing the foul odor. But with a new invention from 48-year-old Brian Conant-- the Flatulence Deodorizer (also known as "Flat-D")-- there is an alternative way to limit the embarrassment.

It all began eight years go, when Brian Conant was standing alongside his fellow National Guardsmen during a training session in Hawaii. On that fateful day, Conant was cutting the cheese like nobody's business. But he was wearing a heavy chemical warfare suit lined with charcoal. "Any time I expelled gas in the suit, I suddenly realized nobody could smell it," Conant says. "It was amazing."

Many long hours of hard work later, Conant now has the Flat D hitting the market. The long, narrow washable pad, lined thinly with charcoal, absorbs chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of the bacteria that causes odorous gas. The pad, at $12.95, curves with the contour of the body, and one size fits most.

For those who fall outside the "most" category, Conant has developed the "overpad," due to the increasing number of phone calls from obese patients who have just undergone gastric bypass surgery. According to Conant's marketing director, Frank Morosky, January is their hottest-selling month. Why? According to Morosky, "[In] January, people [make] New Year's resolutions to eat healthier. And, it turns out, healthy foods like broccoli, beans and whole grains cause gas."

Tunnel Takes A Different Kind Of Toll

If you're headed for a tunnel that's 13 feet tall and you're truck is 13 feet six inches, you're headed for big trouble. That small fact didn't occur to to Gilberto Cantu, a Texas truck driver, as he approached the New Jersey entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel in his rig loaded with bathtubs, toilets and plumbing fixtures.

As reported in the NY Times, Mr. Cantu drove the entire 1.5 miles of the tunnel from Weehawken, N.J., to Manhattan, tearing his way under the Hudson River in the tunnel’s center tube and peeling back the roof of his tractor-trailer as if it were a tin can. No one was injured, but an undetermined number of decorative tunnel ceiling tiles were ripped off.

It was unclear why Mr. Cantu did not heed several flashing signs and a orders to stop blasted from a loudspeaker, according to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the tunnel. “There were enough bells and whistles going off that this should not have happened,” Mr. Coleman said. “He told the officers he didn’t know where he was going.”

Mr. Coleman said trucks were turned back for exceeding the height limit about once a week. Roy Guzman, the safety director of U.S.A. Logistics Carriers of McAllen, Tex., Mr. Cantu’s employer, said in a telephone interview that “it was just a bad call” by Mr. Cantu. “He misjudged the height of the tunnel, and once he was inside it he didn’t realize the damage he was doing.”

Mr. Cantu, of Edinburg, Tex., declined to comment. He was issued nine misdemeanor moving violations, including reckless driving, failure to obey a traffic signal and failure to obey an officer’s command. “This is going to cost us, and it’s going to cost him,” Guzman said. Whether that means Mr. Cantu will lose his job “has been discussed, but we have to wait and see until we have a talk with him,” Mr. Guzman added.

"I'm Not Adam-- I Just Play One On TV"

Eric Linden, an actor who plays Adam in a video aired at a museum promoting creationism and other religious theories, has led a different life outside the Garden of Eden, flaunting his sexual exploits online and modeling for a clothing line that promotes free love. According to an Associated Press story, the bible-based Creation Museum in Kentucky pulled the 40-second video in which he appears-- after learning about Linden's extracurricular activities.

"We are currently investigating the veracity of these serious claims of his participation in projects that don't align with the biblical standards and moral code upon which the ministry was founded," Answers for Genesis spokesman Mark Looy said in a written statement.

The actor, Eric Linden, formerly owned a graphic Web site called Bedroom Acrobat where he was pictured, smiling alongside a drag queen, in a T-shirt brandishing the site's sexually suggestive logo. The Web site, which has a network of members, allowed users to post explicit stories and photos. Just after initial press reports begin to hit the street, the site was brought down and ownership of the URL transferred to another party.

He also sells clothing for SFX International, whose logo appears to spell "SEX" from a distance. It promotes "free love,""pleasure" and "thrillz."

Linden, a graphic designer, model and actor who grew up in Columbus, emphasizes in his public statements that he is no longer affiliated with the Bedroom Acrobat site, and has handed the domain name off to somebody else. Ownership records available through the NetworkSolutions database show Linden registered the site 18 months ago. He also said he no longer posts to the site.

Linden said he is very proud to play Adam. "But just because I'm Adam on the screen, that doesn't mean I'm Adam off the screen," he said. "What I do shouldn't have anything to do with who they think Adam is."

The clip he appears in is one of 55 featured on tours of the museum, near Cincinnati in Petersburg, Ky. The museum tells the Bible's version of Earth's history — the planet was created in a single week just a few thousand years ago. The museum pulled the clip after learning about his online activities from reporters.

Linden, who now lives in Los Angeles, said his modeling work for the clothing line is just one of the many jobs that make up his career. He said he has great respect for the founders of the Creation Museum and their vision.

"For the Creation Museum, I did what I did as an actor. It doesn't necessarily mean I believe in evolution or a believe in creation," Linden said. "I'm hired to get a point across. On the flip side, if I was hired to play a murderer, that doesn't mean I'd go out and kill somebody. It's make-believe."

Friday, June 8, 2007

Fox and Hound in the News

Now, a little news about some local celebrities. Under the headline "Out There: Seeking Answers On the Town", this photo appeared in the Wapo Express today.

At the Fox and Hound on Tuesday, reporters snapped this shot of HH regulars Eric and Keith. The subject of the Express story was, "What are you getting Dad for Father's Day?"

Eric's response: "A bottle of vodka and a box of condoms." Keith's response: "I'm going to cook him his favorite dinner-- rack of lamb."


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