Friday, August 31, 2007

You Go Girl!

An iron-lunged pensioner has celebrated her 100th birthday by lighting up her 170,000th cigarette from a candle on her birthday cake.

Winnie Langley started smoking only days after the First World War broke out in June 1914 when she was just seven-years-old - and has got through five a day ever since. She has no intention of quitting, even after the nationwide ban forced tobacco-lovers outside.

Speaking at her 100th birthday party to the Daily Mail, Winnie said: "I have smoked ever since infant school and I have never thought about quitting. There were not all the the health warnings like there are today when I started. It was the done thing."

Winnie, from Croydon, South London, claims tobacco has never made her ill. She has outlived a husband, Robert, and son, Donald, who died two years ago aged 72. The former launderette worker said she started the habit in 1914 - just weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28 - which sparked the First World War.

The 100-year-old, who is awaiting her telegram from the Queen today, said smoking helped calm her nerves during the two World Wars. She said: "A lot of people smoked during the war. It helped steady the nerves." Despite the numerous health warnings, Mrs Langley insists she's never suffered because of the habit as she "has never inhaled".

Foolhardy Fish Fantatics Fall For Fatal Fish Flesh

Unscrupulous vendors in Thailand have been selling the flesh of the deadly puffer fish disguised as salmon, causing the deaths of more than 15 people over the past three years, a doctor said this week.

Although banned since 2002, puffer fish continue to be sold in large quantities at local markets and restaurants, said Narin Hiransuthikul of Bangkok's Chulalonkorn University Hospital.

"Some sellers dye the meat of puffer fish and make it look like salmon, which is very dangerous,'' Dr. Narin said. Narin said that over the past three years, more than 15 people have died and about 115 were hospitalized from eating the fish.

The ovaries, liver and intestines of the puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, a poison that can produce rapid and violent death. The fish is called fugu in Japan, where it is consumed by thrill-seeking Japanese gourmets for whom the risk of poisoning adds piquancy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The FBI Finished Him Off Ten Years Ago-- It Just Took That Long For Him To Succumb

Richard Jewell, the Centennial Olympic Park security guard once suspected — but later cleared — in the bombing of the park during the 1996 Summer Games, was found dead Wednesday in his home in Meriwether County. He was 44.

County coroner Johnny Worley said Jewell's wife discovered him dead in their Woodbury home at about 10:30 a.m., and he was pronounced dead by Worley about 45 minutes later.

Worley said an autopsy would be performed to determine how Jewell died, but added there was "no suspicion of foul play. "He had been having some pretty serious medical problems," according to Worley. He said Jewell had been diagnosed with diabetes in February and had a couple of toes amputated. "He had been going downhill ever since," Worley said.

Jewell returned to his job as a deputy with the Meriwether County Sheriff's Office over the summer, "but only for a couple of days," according to Worley.

Jewell was initially lauded as a hero after a bomb went off at the July 27, 1996, Olympic celebration. He called attention to the suspicious knapsack that held a bomb and helped evacuate the area. But days later he became the FBI's chief suspect, and numerous media outlets jumped on the story, eagerly revealing details of his private life leaked to them by inside FBI sources.

The FBI later cleared Jewell of any wrongdoing. He was never charged with a crime. Eric Robert Rudolph pleaded guilty to the bombing in 2005 and is serving life in prison for it and other attacks.

Jewell never really recovered from his time in spotlight. He sued the Journal-Constitution and other media outlets for libel, arguing that their reports defamed him. Several news organizations settled, including NBC and CNN. After the Olympics, Jewell worked as a law officer in a handful of small Georgia cities, including Luthersville, Senoia and Pendergrass.

A year ago this month, Jewell was commended by Gov. Sonny Perdue at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the bombing. "The bottom line is this: His actions saved lives that day," said Perdue. "Mr. Jewell, on behalf of Georgia, we want to thank you for keeping Georgians safe and doing your job during the course of those Games."

Jewell, his voice choked with emotion, responded: "I never sought to be a hero. I have always viewed myself as just one of the many trained professionals who simply did his or her job that tragic night. I wish I could have done more."

Gonzales' Legacy

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"So Sorry, But I Have To Kill You"

An Arizona woman has been charged with attempted murder after allegedly stabbing her estranged husband in the chest during sex.

Falon Gonzales, 23, was released on $100,000 bond after the incident, according to the report on Her husband, Juan Carlos Gonzales, 26, was listed in serious condition at a local hospital. He fled to neighbor Tony Ballard's home after the attack. "I've never had a naked man run to my house bleeding, you know what I mean?" Ballard told reporters.

Ballard said that the couple was in the middle of sex when the alleged attack occurred. "She was on top and she reached out of a bag and pulled a knife out of a bag and drove it into his chest," Ballard said of the incident. "She apologized first," the neighbor explained further. "She said 'Juan, I'm sorry about this.'"

Juan Carlos Gonzales was transported to Scottsdale Osborn Healthcare hospital with a collapsed lung and was listed in serious condition. Authorities said Juan Gonzales moved out of the couple's home about a month ago and asked to meet his wife and a home appraiser Tuesday afternoon. He later showed Falon Gonzales dissolution of marriage papers. Falon Gonzales told police that she hid a kitchen knife in a duffel bag at the home with a plan to harm her husband and stabbed him with it after luring him into the bathroom.

Live-In Relationship Heats Up

A woman set fire to her ex-husband's penis as he sat naked watching television and drinking vodka, Moscow police announced last week.

Asked if the man would make a full recovery, a police spokeswoman said it was "difficult to predict".

The attack climaxed three years of acrimonious enforced co-habitation. The couple divorced three years ago but continued to share a small flat, something common in Russia where property costs are very high.

"It was monstrously painful," the wounded ex-husband told Tvoi Den newspaper. "I was burning like a torch. I don't know what I did to deserve this."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


A man was subjected to a so-called 'tarring and feathering' attack in south Belfast last weekend.

It is thought the attack was carried out by two men wearing balaclavas as a crowd including women and children looked on. The victim was made to wear a placard reading 'I'm a drug dealing scum bag'.

Colin Halliday of the UPRG, the political wing of the UDA, quoted in the BBC article, described the incident as a community reaction. "It was not a UDA punishment attack," he said. "There was a lot of anger within the community as nobody wants a drug dealer in their midst. There were people baying for blood but that's not the way things are done now."

Northern Ireland's Social Development Margaret Ritchie said that this type of incident had "no place in a civilized society". Despite denials from the UPRG, most people will find it very hard to believe that the UDA was not involved.

Although the police was contacted regarding the incident, by the time officers arrived in the loyalist estate, neither the victim or his attackers could be found.

AIDS Victims Buried Alive

Some AIDS victims are being buried alive in Papua New Guinea by relatives who cannot look after them and fear becoming infected themselves, a health worker said this week.

Margaret Marabe, who spent five months carrying out an AIDS awareness campaign in the remote Southern Highlands of the South Pacific nation, said she had seen five people buried while still breathing.

One was calling out "Mama, Mama" as the soil was shoveled over his head, said Marabe, who works for a volunteer organization called Igat Hope, Pidgin English for I've Got Hope. "One of them was my cousin, who was buried alive," she told reporters.

"I said, 'Why are they doing that?' And they said, 'If we let them live, stay in the same house, eat together and use or share utensils, we will contract the disease and we too might die." Villagers had told her it was common for people to bury AIDS victims alive.

Marabe appealed to the government and aid agencies to ensure the HIV/AIDS awareness programs carried out in cities and towns was extended to the rural areas, where ignorance about the disease is widespread.

Women accused of being witches have been tortured and murdered by mobs holding them responsible for the apparently inexplicable deaths of young people stricken by the epidemic, officials and researchers say.

A recent United Nations report said PNG was facing an AIDS catastrophe, accounting for 90 percent of HIV infections in the Oceania region. HIV diagnoses had risen by around 30 percent a year since 1997, leaving an estimated 60,000 people living with the disease in 2005.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales A Go-Go

Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation today, driven from office after a protracted standoff with congressional critics over his (lack of) honesty and competence.

Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his departure over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys, while Bush had stubbornly stood by his Texas friend for months until finally accepting his resignation.

Gonzales, whom Bush once considered for appointment to the Supreme Court (note from the Daily Dude: that was a close one!) is the fourth top-ranking administration official within the last year to leave under a cloud of controversy, following Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, (who had a high-ranking Pentagon job before going to the World Bank), and top policy adviser/hatchet man Karl Rove.

Reactions and quotes:

George Bush: "After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision."

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards issued a four-word reaction: "Better late than never.” (In reaction to Karl Rove's resignation two weeks ago, Edwards said simply, "Goodbye. Good riddance.")

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said on Fox: "Thank God." He later said, “It has been a long and difficult struggle, but at last the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down. For the previous six months, the Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional, and desperately needs new leadership.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the Justice Department under Gonzales had "suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence."

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): "I have long believed that Alberto Gonzales subverted justice to promote a political agenda, and so I am pleased that he has finally resigned today."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): "Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job. He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove."

Senator Christopher Dodd said that Gonzales had turned the Justice Department into a "political wing of the Bush administration."

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is one more reminder that the president must appoint someone to lead the Department of Justice with the leadership and competence necessary to defend the Constitution." (Chertoff is rumored to be a replacement for Gonzales.)

As of this writing, all of the Republican presidential hopefuls were silent in reaction to news of Gonzales' resignation.

Note: Upon agreement with the Senate, the Bush administration is planning for a nominee who will be confirmed by the Senate and serve until the end of the administration. An individual may serve in an acting capacity for 210 days. However, if there is a pending nominee, the 210-day "clock" is reset at Day One when the nominee is announced. The clock is reset again if the nomination is withdrawn or fails.

Can't The Bush Administration Get Anything Right?

A demonstration has been held in southeast Afghanistan accusing U.S. troops of insulting Islam after they distributed soccer balls bearing the name of Allah. The balls showed the Saudi Arabian flag which features the Koranic declaration of faith.

The Pentagon said the idea had been to give something for Afghan children to enjoy and they did not realize it would cause offense. The soccer balls were dropped from a helicopter in Khost province.

Some displayed flags from countries all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, which features the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam - the declaration of faith. The words, which include the name of Allah, are revered, and Muslims are very sensitive about where and how they can be used. Saudi Arabia has complained to the World Cup's ruling body in the past about the use of its flag on soccer balls.

Mullahs in Afghanistan criticised the U.S. forces for their insensitivity, and around 100 people held a demonstration in Khost. Afghan MP Mirwais Yasini said: "To have a verse of the Koran on something you kick with your foot would be an insult in any Muslim country around the world."

Butchery, Bloodbath By Bear Begat By Beer Binge

A 23-year old Serb was found dead and half-eaten in the bear cage of Belgrade Zoo during the annual beer festival. The man was found naked, with his clothes lying intact inside the cage. Two adult bears, Masha and Misha, had dragged the body to their feeding corner and reacted angrily when keepers tried to recover it.

"There's a good chance he was drunk or drugged. Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage," zoo director Vuk Bojovic told reporters. Local media reported that police found several mobile phones inside the cage, as well as bricks, stones and beer cans.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More Failures In The "War" On Terror

The government's terrorist database flagged nearly 20,0000 "suspected terrorists" last year. But only a tiny fraction (2.75%) of those questioned were arrested or denied entry into the United States, raising concerns among critics about privacy and the list's effectiveness.

A range of state, local and federal agencies rely on the database to pinpoint terrorism suspects, who can be identified at borders or even during routine traffic stops. The database consolidates a dozen government watch lists, as well as a growing amount of information from various sources, including airline passenger data. The government said it was planning to expand the data-sharing to private-sector groups with a "substantial bearing on homeland security," though officials would not be more specific.

Few specifics are known about how the system operates, how many people are detained or turned back from borders, or the criteria used to identify suspects, due to the Orwellian secrecy of the Bush administration. As in the past, the government will not discuss cases, nor will it confirm whether an individual's name is on its list. The full Wapo article by Ellen Nakashima can be found here.

Must we really have to wait until the 2008 elections before something is done about this failed (so-called) "war on terror"?

Australian Woman "Humped" To Death

A woman in Australia has been killed by her pet camel after the animal tried to have sex with her. The woman was found dead at the family's sheep and cattle ranch near the town of Mitchell in Queensland. The woman had been given the camel as a 60th birthday present earlier this year because of her love of exotic pets.

The camel was just 10 months old but already weighed 336 pounds and had come close to suffocating the family's pet goat on a number of occasions.

On the day of her death, the woman apparently became the object of the male camel's desire. It knocked her to the ground, lay on top of her and displayed what the police delicately described as "possible mating behavior".

"I'd say it's probably been playing, or it may be even a sexual sort of thing," a news agency quoted Queensland police Detective Senior Constable Craig Gregory as saying. Young camels are not normally aggressive but can become more threatening if treated and raised as pets.

Just How Abusive Are These New Virginia Driver Fees?

There has been a lot of press coverage lately on the "Abusive Driver Fees" currently in effect in the State of Virginia.

What hasn't been written about a lot is exactly the types of violations that are covered under the law, and what they will cost the unsuspecting (Virginian) driver. To be clear, the following list shows what fees will be assessed-- in addition to the normal fines and court costs:

$250 Fee:

Driving on a suspended license or without a license
An employee unsuspectingly driving a work vehicle that
. has been ordered out of service
$300 Fee:

Refusing to take a blood or breath test for the 2nd time
Open alcohol container in vehicle
Possession of a fake ID
Failing to notify law enforcement of an accident that
. resulted in injury
Operating an uninsured vehicle
Disregarding police signal to stop
Blocking access to a service area with your vehicle
Failing to stop at the scene of an accident
Failing to reduce speed when approaching an emergency
. vehicle displaying lights
Failing to stop for blind pedestrian
Driving a vehicle with below-standard tires
Driving a vehicle that has not had registration fees paid
Driving a vehicle that has obscene video images visible
. from outside the windows

$350 Fee:

Reckless driving
Passing on the crest of a hill or the curve of a highway
Driving a vehicle with contents that obscure driver's view
. of side or back
Passing a stopped school bus
Failing to signal a turn
Exceeding a reasonable speed, given circumstances or
. road conditions (regardless of posted limit)
Speeding 20 MPH over limit or in excess of 80 MPH

$750 Fee:

DWI or DUI, first or second offense
Person under 21 driving after consuming any alcohol

$1,000 Fee:

Unauthorized use of a vehicle
DWI or DUI, 3rd offense
Disregarding police signal to stop, if the officer deems you are
. interfering with an investigation or endangering a person
Failure to stop at an accident, if someone was injured/died
. or damages exceeded $1,000


"Dr. Beetroot" In A Real Pickle

Dr. Beetroot, South Africa's controversial Health Minister, is facing new calls for her resignation. They follow newspaper allegations that she underwent a liver transplant while suffering from alcoholism.

The government says the reports are "false and speculative", and President Mbeki's office says he still has confidence in his health minister. Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang got her nickname as a result of her emphasis on the use of garlic and beetroot for HIV sufferers instead of anti-retroviral drugs.

But over the past fortnight, the press has made startling allegations that the health minister was an alcoholic who jumped the queue to obtain a liver transplant earlier this year.

South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper has also said that as part of a five-month investigation, it discovered that Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang was convicted of stealing from a patient when she worked as a medical superintendent at a hospital in Botswana 30 years ago. The opposition Democratic Alliance is now calling for an investigation into claims that President Thabo Mbeki contacted the surgeons at a Johannesburg medical centre to insist that they approve a transplant for the minister.

The opposition leader, Helen Zille, says if this is true, it's "a disgraceful abuse" of the president's public position. But the government is standing by the health minister. It says the allegations are "false, speculative and bizarre", and there will be no investigation until evidence is produced. The president's official spokesman says Mr. Mbeki still has confidence in Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang.

President Mbeki and Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang have an association that stretches back more than four decades. They were part of the same group of students which fled South Africa to go into exile in 1962.

Ten days ago, Mr. Mbeki fired his deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, saying she had not been a team player and had made an unauthorised trip to an AIDS conference in Spain.

MiniStorage Ad Stirs Controversy In Manhattan

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Reason You Don't See Iranian Women In These Photos Is Because They Are Suffering A Different Kind Of Punishment

The Daily Mail reported this week on the type of "rough justice" sometimes dispensed on the streets of Iran. In the above photo, a government official brandishing a cane (with his face covered by a balaclava) repeatedly lashes the back of a man found guilty of breaking Iran's morality laws.

Two police officers hold the legs of 25-year-old Saeed Ghanbari and another his arms to ensure there is no escape from the punishment of 80 lashes handed down by a religious court.

Traffic was brought to a halt in Qazvin, 90 miles west of the capital Tehran, as more than 1,000 men gathered behind barricades to watch the public flogging.

Some took pictures on mobile telephones, others climbed traffic lights for a better vantage point as Ghanbari was marched to the centre of the square under the watch of blue-uniformed guards carrying machine guns.

A four foot long metal bench was taken from a police van and the convicted man was made to lie on it on his stomach, his shirt pulled-up to his shoulders to expose his back and waist.

One police officer held his hands together beneath the bench, two others gripped his legs to ensure there was little movement. Two police officers stood-by, their faces covered with balaclavas - each to administer 40 lashes.

Both men then lashed Ghanbari, taking the cane back behind their heads to guarantee maximum impact, each stroke leaving a distinctive red mark and bruising on his back. Several wounds began to bleed.

It was unclear exactly what his offense had been as the country's strict morality laws cover many areas, but it was reported he had been convicted of abusing alcohol and having sex outside of marriage.

The public lashings have been endorsed by the judiciary as a way of deterring alcohol abuse at a time when it is on the increase among young men but some religious leaders are said to be questioning their validity, fearing they have an adverse impact on the country's image abroad.

Although men and women convicted of flouting public morals are routinely flogged in detention centers, public floggings are considered rare.

Human Rights groups say there have been a marked rise in recent months in the number of people sentenced to executions and floggings in Iran. Amnesty International, which said it is "greatly concerned by continuing human rights abuses in Iran", has highlighted figures revealing 117 people were executed in 2006 with thousands facing floggings.

They included a woman, who had been forced into prostitution as an eight-year-old, receiving 99 lashes because of "acts contrary to chastity." Earlier this year, a man was flogged after a copy of the Bible was found in his car.

At least 120 executions have been recorded so far this year, according to Amnesty, with two youths among those killed-- who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.

Tempest Over Tiempo

I've avoided blogging about Chavez for a long time-- most everybody know that Fidel Jr. is well on his way to establishing the newest socialist dictatorship and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that anybody (much less rational Venezuelan voters) can do about it. But the latest news (reported by the New York Times) is giving some indication that Chavez may be going off the deep end. On his regular Sunday television show, in what several other news reports referred to as a “rambling” address, Chávez unveiled his plans to move Venezuela's clocks ahead by half an hour.

Reaction was swift, with many people recalling the scene in Woody Allen’s “Bananas” when a revolutionary hero becomes president of a Latin American country and announces that from now on, “underwear will be worn on the outside.”

In his speech, Chávez connected the time change to his plan to reduce the Venezuelan work day in 2008. His administration believes that cutting everyone’s work day to six hours will increase national productivity and that by move the clocks ahead a half hour will create a “metabolic effect, where the human brain is conditioned by sunlight.”

Hugo appeared on TV with his science minister, who later said the Venezuelan government wants to return the country to the system it used before 1965-- when it was changed for convenience.

If Hugo follows through with his plan, Venezuela will join only a few other countries who use the half-hour system--Burma, Afghanistan, Nepal, and the Canadian province Newfoundland.

Riordan Roett, the director of the Western Hemisphere studies program at Johns Hopkins University, says that the fact that the president of Venezuela announces something does not necessarily mean it’s a done deal. “See if Chávez repeats it,” he advised. “If it’s just a one-time thing, the rational people who are still in the government will just ignore it.”

Moose Juice On The Loose

The poor old Scandinavian moose is now being blamed for climate change, with researchers in Norway claiming that a grown moose can produce 2,100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year-- equivalent to the CO2 output resulting from a 13,000 kilometer car journey.

Norway is concerned that its national animal, the moose, is harming the climate by emitting an estimated 2,100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year through its belching and farting.

As reported by Spiegel online, Norwegian newspapers are citing research from Norway's technical university in their claims that a motorist would have to drive 13,000 kilometers in a car to emit as much CO2 as a moose does in a year.

Bacteria in a moose's stomach create methane gas which is considered even more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide gas. Cows pose the same problem as well, according to the website.

Norway has some 120,000 moose but an estimated 35,000 are expected to be killed in this year's moose hunting season, which starts on September 25, Norwegian newspaper VG reported.

National Intel Director Comes Clean . . . A Bit

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell pulled the curtain back on previously classified details of government surveillance and of a secretive court whose recent rulings created new hurdles for the Bush administration as it tries to prevent terrorism.

In an interview with the El Paso Times, McConnell's made comments that raised eyebrows for their frank discussion of previously classified eavesdropping work conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA. Among the disclosures:

—McConnell confirmed for the first time that the private companies were complicit with Bush's warrantless surveillance program. AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunications companies are now being sued for their cooperation.

—He provided new details on court rulings handed down by the secret FISA court, which approves classified eavesdropping operations. McConnell said a ruling that went into effect May 31 required the government to get court warrants to monitor communications between two foreigners if the conversation travels on a wire in the U.S. network. Millions of calls each day do, because of the robust nature of the U.S. systems.

—McConnell said it takes 200 hours to assemble a FISA warrant on a single telephone number. "We're going backwards," he said. "We couldn't keep up."

—Offering never-disclosed figures, McConnell also revealed that fewer than 100 people inside the United States are monitored under FISA warrants. However, he said, thousands of people overseas are monitored.

McConnell's admissions were a radical departure from the Bush government's normally tight-lipped approach to disclosing any information about how it spies on electronic communications. But at the same time, he fell back on some of the cliched rhetoric used by Bush to justify the Stalinesque secrecy of his administration. According to McConnell, the current debate in Congress about whether to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will cost American lives because of all the information it is revealing to terrorists. "Part of this is a classified world. The fact that we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die," he said.

After the interview, McConnell asked reporter Chris Roberts to consider whether enemies of the U.S. could gain from the information he just shared in the interview, leaving it to the paper to decide what to publish. "I don't believe it damaged national security or endangered any of our people," said El Paso Times Executive Editor Dionicio Flores in the decision to post the interview to its website.

More Hair-Brained Schemes in Iran

Iran has shut down barber shops offering unconventional Western hair styles amid a police crackdown on dress deemed un-Islamic, according to reports.

"Over the past 15 days, 13 barbers' shops that had not respected the union's directives have been closed down," police commander Mohammad Ali Najafi said.

He told the Etemad daily that the barbers' union had banned eyebrow-plucking for men as well as "deviant Western styles". "Eleven women's beauty saloons were also shut down for not having a license or for violations such as tattooing, which is banned by a health ministry directive," he added.

Tehran's barbers' union said in April that police had issued a directive forbidding its members from giving men offbeat hairstyles. The directive also banned the use of cosmetics in male salons. Shoulder-length, spiky or heavily gelled styles for men have long angered Iran's religious conservatives.

Police also launched a renewed crackdown last month against women whose skimpy headscarves or figure-hugging clothing violate the dress code in force in Iran.

Friday, August 24, 2007

If You Want To Unlock your IPhone & You Have 500 Hours Of Spare Time and Some Soldering Tools

Some 17-year-old teenager from New Jersey spent all summer working on it. He's on his way this week to start his freshman year at Rochester Institute of Technology. Check out the procedure on his blog:

The Week That Was: 8/24/07

With an intensity far greater than that of the former Vermont Governor, Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico this week. Although there was great destruction, only eight hurricane-related deaths have been reported so far.

The Queen of Mean died this week. No, not Hillary-- Leona Helmsley. This blogger seemed to put her death in perspective quite nicely.

(Former?) Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty to charges in his dog-fighting case. But there's more 'bad newz' to come-- as gambling charges against him are still pending.

After denying since 2004 that Iraq was like Vietnam, Bush is now comparing Iraq to Vietnam. Is anybody really listening to what he has to say on Iraq anymore?

Putin and Sarkozy both create minor media sensations after doffing their shirts. The French President benefited from a Photoshop-savvy editor who made his love handles disappear. Russia's Putin solved the same problem the low-tech way-- by hiking his pants up to his belly button. All right, George-- it's your turn. Let's see if all that bike riding has done any good.

Lindsay Lohan was charged with only seven misdemeanors this week, in connection with her DUI arrests from May and July. On both occasions, she was found in possession of cocaine and was (supposedly) to have undergone rehab after the first incident. How the L.A. district attorney retains any shred of credibility after this fiasco (Forgot about Paris Hilton already?) is beyond me.

Unfortunately, there's still some fairly slim pickings at the multiplex this weekend. The Daily Dude's best pick for a movie is "Resurrecting the Champ"-- on the plus side, it stars Samuel Jackson; on the negative side, it always stars Josh Hartnett. The documentary "Deep Water"-- about the first solo, non-stop boat race around the world-- could be pretty good, too.

He Won't Get Jail Time-- But On His Deathbed He Will Receive Total Consciousness

"Caddyshack" star Bill Murray was pulled over in downtown Stockholm after admittedly driving drunk in a golf cart, but he refused a breath test saying he was protected by U.S. law. Police were left wondering if something was lost in translation.

The 56-year-old actor-comedian could face drunken driving charges after his joyride early Monday in an electrical vehicle that had been used for a promotional display outside his hotel.

Murray, who had been at a golf tournament in Sweden, was apparently returning to his hotel after a visit to an exclusive Stockholm night club when police pulled him over. "He was out driving that electrical car right in the middle of Stockholm city," Holmlund told the Associated Press. "The police thought it looked a bit strange, so they stopped him."

The officers noticed that Murray smelled of alcohol, but he refused to take a breath test, citing U.S. law — which has no bearing in Sweden, Holmlund said. Murray later agreed to a blood test at a police station.

He said Murray was cooperative and was released after the test. The results will be ready in two weeks. Murray signed a document admitting he was driving under the influence, and agreed to let a police officer plead guilty for him if the case goes to court, Holmlund said. The actor will only be charged if tests show his blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit. Two glasses of wine can be enough to break Sweden's strict laws. A very high alcohol level could lead to a prison sentence, but Holmlund said fines were more likely.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

If He Was That Hard Up For Cash, Even A Part-Time Job At The Fudge Shoppe Would Have Been Better

When Pennsylvania State police began a sting operation to catch suspected prostitutes they had no idea they would be arresting one of their own. But that's exactly what happened last week, when a Newport Township part-time police officer working as a male hooker was arrested in a prostitution sting at a Wilkes-Barre motel.

Levi Gibbon Jr., 40, of Wilkes-Barre, was charged by the state police Organized Crime Unit with a single count of prostitution. He was arraigned before Hanover Township District Judge Joseph Halesey and released on $5,000 bail. Newport Township Solicitor Richard Shiptoski said Gibbon has been suspended without pay until resolution of the charge, a third-degree misdemeanor. Gibbon couldn’t be reached for comment by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

According to the criminal complaint, State police and the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office were involved in a prostitution sting at the Wilkes-Barre Lodge motel when an informant told authorities that Gibbon was working as an escort and was to show up at 4 p.m. to meet a client.

Gibbon, carrying a blue mini cooler, knocked on the door and was greeted by an undercover trooper posing as a client. Once inside the room, Gibbon discussed with the trooper sexual acts that would be performed for an amount of money, the criminal complaint says. Gibbon began to undress as he accepted $200 in marked money. A signal was given to surveillance teams, who entered the room and arrested Gibbon. Police said Gibbon admitted in a written statement that he was working as an escort and expected to receive money for sexual favors, the criminal complaint says.

Newport Township Police Department Chief Robert Impaglia declared “We're extremely shocked. It’s not something we would have expected. Levi's been going through some tough times recently; personal matters, but we're extremely shocked."

“When he came to work, he did his work. That was it. There was no rift-raft. There were no complaints about him" stated Newport Township Chief Impaglia. With only ten officers in Newport Township his co-workers are expected to pick-up his shifts. Meanwhile firefighters who worked closely with Gibbon also said they are in shock.

Paul Mierzwi of the Newport Township Fire Department stated “He did his job. He did a good job. Everybody liked him. It was all unexpected when we heard the news. We were all shocked."

Blame It On "Divine Madness"

Entertainer and Oahu native Bette Midler will pay a $6,500 fine for improperly cutting down more than 200 trees on one of her Kauai properties, an attorney representing her told Hawaii's Star Bulletin this week.

"It was cleared without permits, and without the realization that permits were necessary," Kauai attorney Max W.J. Graham said of Midler's 58,500-square-foot lot in the Haena District of Kauai's North Shore.

State conservation workers noticed Oct. 17 that Midler's vacant lot just off the Kuhio Highway in Limahuli Valley was being cleared and that a graded road had been built to it, says a report to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. An after-the-fact survey by botanists hired by Midler determined that 120 Java plum trees, 100 octopus trees and 10 to 20 Madagascar olive trees -- all non-native species -- and an undetermined number of native hau trees were removed.

Because the land is zoned for conservation uses, any activity on it must be approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. Graham said Midler will pay the fine and comply with the requirement that the land be restored.

"The whole idea with cutting the trees down was with the idea of improving the lot with native species" instead of the non-native, invasive species that had grown there, Graham said. "It's unfortunate that a mistake was made." Biologists from the National Tropical Botanical Garden will design a replanting plan that consists of appropriate native plants, Graham said.

There is no house on Midler's Haena property nor plans to put one there, and Midler "doesn't own any property around it," Graham said. "I'm not even sure where she stays when she's on Kauai," he said.

Porking For Putin

The southwest Russian region of Ulyanovsk has found a novel way to fight the nation's birth-rate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

According to the Denver Post article, Ulyanovsk (about 550 miles east of Moscow) has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.

Russia, with one-seventh of Earth's land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birth rate and a high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.

In his state-of-the-nation address last year, President Vladimir Putin called the demographic crisis the most acute problem facing Russia and announced a broad effort to boost Russia's birth rate, including cash incentives to families that have more than one child.

Ulyanovsk Gov. Sergei Morozov has added an element of fun to the national campaign.

The 2007 grand prize went to Irina and Andrei Kartuzov, who received a UAZ-Patriot, a sport utility vehicle. Other contestants won video cameras, TVs, refrigerators and washing machines.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Snakey" Bastards

Two men who allegedly tried to use rattlesnakes as deadly weapons to collect on a debt have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, authorities told the Associated Press this week. Herbert Paul Beck, 56, and Christopher Lee Steelman, 34, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and extortion. Bail for each suspect was set at $500,000.

The Lakewood men were trying to kill Matthew Sowash, owner of Amateur Poker Tour in Wheat Ridge, because he owed them $60,000, according to Jim Shires of the Jefferson County Sheriff's office. Arrest affidavits say Sowash's company stages Texas Hold'em-style poker games in Denver area bars.

Investigators said Steelman told them the two men discussed ways to kill Sowash and Beck suggested rattlesnakes. Beck allegedly told investigators he invested $36,000 in the company last December, and with interest was due $60,000.

The plan was to build a wooden box to hold the snakes and the lid was to be built to allow Sowash's legs to be put inside but not pulled out. According to the arrest affidavits, Beck also planned to kidnap Sowash's children and use them as leverage to get the money from Sowash." Sowash contacted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation after getting threatening e-mails.

Cleanliness is the "Number 1" Priority

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Taking AIDS Seriously Outside The U.S.

If Chinese Food, Paint, Toothpaste or Tires Don't Kill Ya-- Maybe Their Clothes Will

Imagine your toddler brushing his teeth and going to bed with his favorite toy. If you were a discount shopper (and most of us are), then you've now got more to worry about than lethal toothpaste or lead-based toy paints. If you haven't heard, your kid's pajamas could now kill him as well.

Reports are now coming in from New Zealand, who says it would investigate allegations that imported children’s clothes contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

The government ordered the probe after scientists hired by a consumer watchdog programme discovered formaldehyde in Chinese clothes at levels of up to 900 times regarded as safe. Manufacturers sometimes apply formaldehyde to clothes to prevent mildew. It can cause skin rashes, irritation to the eyes and throat and allergic reactions.

The Warehouse, a New Zealand retailer, issued a recall at the weekend for children’s pajamas made in China after two children were burned when their flannelette nightclothes caught fire.

Li Changjiang, head of China’s safety watchdog, claimed the product safety scares were “a new trend of trade protectionism”, and accused some governments of “demonising China’s products”. Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, characterized that charge as bunk. “The allegation that European companies’ action against toxic Chinese goods is politically motivated and shows bias against China is totally false,” said Mandelson.

Monday, August 20, 2007

80-Year-Old Cuban Is Still A Threat?

The August report from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) contained some embarrassing news about Travelocity. Seems that for for six years, between 1998 and 2004, the Travelocity site booked 1,453 reservations for travel to Cuba. Travelocity, agreed to a fine of $182,750.

The report of the Travelocity fine follows the general OFAC “the less you know the better” policy and reveals no more about the violation than described above. But it's fairly certain that the violation was not voluntarily disclosed because the OFAC report almost always notes that fact if there has been a voluntary disclosure.

But some internet sources have openly speculated that Expedia (or possibly Orbitz) ratted out Travelocity after being fined themselves for voluntarily disclosing Cuba violations back in 2002. As part of the 2002 case, OFAC ruled that the Cuban Assets Control Regulations apply to overseas subsidiaries of U.S. companies as well.

The August report from OFAC also reveals that they are still meting out penalties to individuals buying Cuban cigars over the internet-- one individual being fined $999.45 and another $510.00. I have to agree with Clif Burns on his ExportLaw blog-- this penny-ante harassment of individuals over Cuban cigars isn't worth the expenditure of tax dollars, given other threats to national security.

Mystic Pizza

A New Jersey school custodian is alleging in a lawsuit that his co-workers laced his pizza with the hallucinogen LSD in an attempt to poison him at an office party in 2005.

Dominick A. Rao, a janitor with the district since 2000, was served pizza out of a different box than the other custodians, his attorney, Richard Mazawey, told reporters. "He said he felt like his body and system were melting from the inside out, like he was living in a kaleidoscope."

Soon after, Rao went to an emergency room at an area hospital where it was found that he "had a controlled dangerous substance running through his bloodstream," Mazawey said.

Rao said he has extremely poor vision due to bilateral ocular albinism, a condition that causes his eyes to lack pigment. Because of this, he said he was often bullied by his supervisor and co-workers. When Rao returned to work after the alleged incident, a co-worker asked him, "How are you still alive," the suit says.

"Upon hearing this, he realized how extensive the plot to poison him truly was," according to the suit. Rao filed a police report more than a year after the alleged incident but no criminal charges have been brought against anyone.

Enjoy A Little PacMan While You're Here

Sunday, August 19, 2007

DNA Discrimination in the Department of Defense

Those medically discharged from the U.S. military with genetic diseases are left without disability or retirement benefits. But some, including former Army Ranger Eric Miller, are fighting back-- as reported in length by the LA Times' Karen Kaplan.

Lurking in his genes was a mutation that made him vulnerable to uncontrolled tumor growth. After suffering back pain during a tour in Afghanistan, he underwent three surgeries to remove tumors from his brain and spine that left him with numbness throughout the left side of his body.

Because he was born with the mutation, the Army argued it bore no responsibility for his illness and medically discharged him in 2005 without the disability benefits or health insurance he needed to fight his disease. While genetic discrimination is banned in most cases throughout the country, it is alive and well in the U.S. military.

For more than 20 years, the armed forces have held a policy that specifically denies disability benefits to servicemen and women with congenital or hereditary conditions. The practice would be illegal in almost any other workplace.

"You could be in the military and be a six-pack-a-day smoker, and if you come down with emphysema, 'That's OK. We've got you covered,' " said Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University."But if you happen to have a disease where there is an identified genetic contribution, you are screwed."

The fear of genetic discrimination coincides with early efforts to decode the human genome more than 25 years ago. Congress took action in 1996, banning genetic discrimination in group health plans, and in 2000, President Clinton signed an executive order forbidding the practice against the federal government's nearly 2 million civilian employees. Similar laws against genetic discrimination swept through 31 states.

Congress is working to extend the federal law with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which would protect people with individual medical policies. The act has passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. Even if it becomes law, it will not apply to military personnel.

Racism In Baseball? You Don't Say!

A new study reported on at the Time/CNN website claims that baseball umpires' decisions are indirectly motivated by racism.

According to the new study led by Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, Major League Baseball umpires tend to call more strikes when the pitcher is of their same race; when they're not, umps call more balls. It doesn't happen all the time — in about 1% of pitches thrown — but that's still one pitch per game, and it could be the one that makes the difference. "One pitch called the other way affects things a lot," says Hamermesh. "Baseball is a very closely played game." What's more, says Hamermesh, a slight umpire bias affects more than just the score; it also has an indirect effect on a team's psyche. Baseball is a game of strategy. If a pitcher knows he's more likely to get questionable pitches called as strikes, he'll start picking off at the corners. But if he knows he's at a disadvantage, he might feel forced to throw more directly over the plate, possibly giving up hits.

Bias in officiating is nothing new in the world of sports. A study released last May showed that referees in the National Basketball Association make racially biased calls too, calling more fouls against players of the opposite race. That was the study that spurred Hamermesh to look at the issue in baseball, and he thinks his findings are even more revealing — in basketball, fouls are called by an entire officiating crew, but in baseball most calls are made exclusively by the home-plate umpire. "In the NBA you don't always know who is making the calls, whereas in baseball it's the home-plate umpire," Hamermesh says.

Hamermesh, who has studied discrimination at all levels, says that bias is instilled in infancy — much like enduring personality traits such as shyness or high self-esteem — as an essential part of human behavior. "We all have these subconscious preferences for our own group," he says. Ever the economist, Hamermesh adds, "It's important to look at it in baseball because of the amount of money that's being made — the salary of the umpires, baseball players and the amount of revenue that's being made by the industry. All these things make this important."

Though his research confirms that bias exists, Hamermesh says it can be easily reduced or eliminated. When a game's attendance is particularly high, when the call is made on a full count or when ballparks use QuesTec, an electronic system that evaluates the accuracy of umpires' calls after the game, the biased behavior disappeared, according to the study. "The umpires hate those [QuesTec] systems," Hamermesh says. "When you're going to be watched and have to pay more attention, you don't subconsciously favor people like yourself. When discrimination has a price, you don't observe it as much." Right now, the QuesTec system is used in 11 of MLB's 30 ballparks, mostly in the American League.

Ooops! Maybe They Should Spend More Money On Education In Arkansas

A law passed this year allows Arkansans of any age - even infants - to marry if their parents agree, and the governor may have to call a special session to fix the mistake, lawmakers said Friday.

The legislation was intended to establish 18 as the minimum age to marry but also allow pregnant teenagers to marry with parental consent, bill sponsor Rep. Will Bond said. An extraneous "not" in the bill, however, allows anyone who is not pregnant to marry at any age if the parents allow it.

"It's clearly not the intent to allow 10-year-olds or 11-year-olds to get married," Bond said. "The legislation was screwed up."

The bill reads: "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage." [emphasis added--DD]

"We need a special session to fix this," Sen. Sue Madison said. "I am concerned about pedophiles coming to Arkansas to find parents who are willing to sign a very young child's consent."

Before the new law took effect July 31, girls could get married with parental consent at 16 and boys at 17.

Roving The Halls Of Government For Political Gain

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was "asset deployment," and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush's reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

"The White House determines which members need visits," said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove "deployment" team, "and where we need to be strategically placing our assets."

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.

Under Rove's direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year's congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays's district in the six months before the election -- once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

The scale of Rove's effort is far broader than previously revealed-- it is now believed that Rove's team gave more than 100 such briefings during the seven years of the Bush administration. The political sessions touched nearly all of the Cabinet departments and a handful of smaller agencies that often had major roles in providing grants, such as the White House office of drug policy and the State Department's Agency for International Development.

A few months ago, these revelations touched off new investigations into whether the White House improperly politicized federal workers or misused government assets to win elections. See the Wapo article by John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen for more details.

As If You Needed More Evidence That Movie Trailers Can Be Very Misleading

The Loony Princess

A school newly created by Norway's Princess Maertha Louise for students who wish to "get in contact with angels" was due to open last week at an undisclosed location because of the controversy it has caused.

Maertha Louise, who claims to be clairvoyant, says the school will offer students the chance to get in contact with their angels, described as "forces that surround us and who are a resource and help in all the aspects of our lives." The three-year program, which costs approximately $13,000, also involves alternative therapies such as hands-on treatment and healing.

Many Norwegians consider the idea wacky, according to media reports. Newspaper Bergens Tidende has called for Maertha Louise, the daughter of King Harald, to renounce her title, while Swedish author and columnist Jan Guillou urged her to "seek treatment".

On Saturday, the princess defended her project on Norwegian public service television. "I'm glad I wasn't born 200 years ago, because I would surely have been burned at the stake long ago," she said.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Real "Downer" For Zimbabwe's Senior Ministers; Trip To Grocery Store Not So Sweet For Zimbabwe Shoppers

Australia says it will deport eight Zimbabwean university students whose parents are senior members of the government of President Robert Mugabe.

The move was aimed at preventing those behind human rights abuses from giving their children the education their policies denied ordinary Zimbabweans, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was quoted as saying in the BBC story.

The Australian government, a vocal critic of Mugabe, earlier this year banned its cricketers from going on a planned tour to Zimbabwe. Downer said the visa measure was necessary because of the continuing disregard for democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, back in Bulawayo, two Zimbabweans were crushed to death when desperate shoppers scrambled to buy sugar. Pressure from the crowd caused a pillar and a wall to fall on top of a security guard and a 15-year-old boy, killing them both.

While Mugabe's senior ministers seek the easy life for their children in foreign universities, the average Zimbabwean struggles to find even the most basic goods, as an economic crisis pushes inflation above 4,500%.

Eyewitnesses told the local paper that the security guard was unlocking the gate to the shopping center when people began to surge forward. When he saw the number of people pushing the gate he sensed danger and hid behind the pillar, which ultimately fell on him and killed him on the spot.

A wall also fell on the boy, causing his fatal injuries. Several other people were harmed, but escaped death. According to one witness, the customers-- instead of rescuing those who had been trapped-- trampled ahead in a desparate bid to be the first in line for sugar.

More Catching Up With Casa D'Ice

One of Bill Balsamico's pet peeves is illegal immigration, and one of his particular annoyances is having to press 1 to speak English on the phone (as you can see below):

A Little Common Sense In The Aid Community

The international aid group, Care, has rejected a donation of $45m from the United States government. Care criticized the way U.S. food aid is distributed, saying it harms local farmers, especially in Africa.

The group claims that the U.S. government's type of food aid does not help communities which were permanently in need. It said that wheat donated by the U.S. does nothing to solve the long-term problems of self-sustaining agriculture and in the short-term only serves to trigger low prices that local farmers are unable to compete with.

"We came to the realization that if we wanted to do what was in the best interest of poor people and efficiency in aid, that this wasn't it," Care President Helene Gayle told reporters. Care said it did not oppose emergency food aid during periods of drought or famine.

Fucking Tourists Keep Stealing Fucking Signs

British tourists have left the residents of one charming Austrian village (Fucking) mad by constantly stealing the signs for their oddly named village. While British visitors are finding it hilarious, the residents of Fucking are failing to see the funny side.

While there is some question as to how long and with what frequency signs in the Fucking village have been stolen, the local authorities have decided to set the new signs in concrete, according to police chief Kommandant Schmidtberger.

"We will not stand for the Fucking signs being removed," the officer said. "It may be very amusing for the British, but Fucking is simply Fucking to us. What is this big Fucking joke? It is puerile."

Local tourist guide Andreas Behmueller said it was only the British that had a fixation with Fucking. "The Germans all want to see the Mozart house in Salzburg," he explained. "Every American seems to care only about 'The Sound of Music' (the 1965 film shot around Salzburg.) The occasional Japanese wants to see Hilter's birthplace in Braunau. But for the British, it's all about Fucking."

Guesthouse manager Augustina Lindelbauer described the village's breathtaking lakes, forests and vistas. "Yet still there is this obsession with Fucking," she said. "Just this morning I had to tell an English lady that there were no Fucking postcards."
Pronounced "fooking," the little
hamlet of Fucking is named after the man who founded the village in the 6th century. His name? Focko. The sign to the right (obtained from carries the hilarity even further: "Bitte - nicht so schnell!" is German for "Please - not so fast!"

Kenyan Journalists Protest New Threat To Press Freedom

Kenyan journalists staged a silent protest through the streets of the capital this week against a media law that would compel them to disclose their sources. Hundreds of journalists taped their mouths and carried placards asking President Mwai Kibaki to reject it.

Kenya's attorney-general on Tuesday pledged to advise the president not to approve the proposed law. Civil society leaders and politicians have been urging the president to reject the bill which critics say threatens the Kenyan media's independence.

Critics claim that the bill is not representative of parliament, as it was passed by only 29 out of 222 members of Parliament. Journalists say they have in the past used their anonymous sources to expose some of the country's major scandals.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Week That Was: 8/17/07

Looks like Bush is losing his "Big Brain". Karl Rove announced that he will be leaving the White House at the end of the month. The question is-- will George be able to tie his shoes by himself or pick out his own ties without him?

A wild week on Wall St is causing investors to run for the exits. So let me get this straight. For the last couple of years, a bunch of ding-a-lings have been overpaying for real estate-- and now that they can't pay their bills, the rest of us are going to suffer?

The federal government was forced to pay a Texas couple $80,000 in compensation this week for impeding their free speech at Bush's July 4th speech in Charleston. The Secret Service had detained the couple because they were wearing anti-Bush t-shirts. Never ones to let Constitutional freedoms get in the way, the Bush White House denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

Beckham scored his first goal with the L.A. Galaxy this week in a 2-0 win over DC United. No word yet on how many times he has scored with his wife (the former Posh Spice) since moving to L.A. . . .

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Peru this week-- the death toll is at 450, and will likely rise over the coming days. In Washington, President Bush offered condolences and said the administration was studying how best to send help. Without Karl Rove on duty, I guess George forgot how to write a check.

Stormin' Mormon: Romney won straw polls in Iowa and Illinois this week.

Four suicide bombings in Iraq this week killed at least 200 people in one of the worst attacks of the war. But thank goodness, we have wall-to-wall coverage of the Utah mine rescue!

Yone Minagawa, the world's oldest person, died this week at age 114. The secret of her longevity? She had an "alcoholic drink" every day. So what are we waiting for? Party on!

At the Movies: "The Invasion" looks to be a real turkey. Although "Superbad" may turn out to be fairly good, let the college crowd have at it. Be sure to go back and see "La Vie en Rose" and "Talk To Me" before they disappear from the multiplex for good.

How About Spending Money to Save Lives?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jihad: The Musical!

A new British musical play is stirring intense criticism and public indignation, with a petition calling for the Prime Minister to condemn the musical having already been launched on his Downing Street website. "Jihad: the Musical", which features a burkha-clad chorus line dancing with mock-ups of missiles, rifles and grenade launchers, opened last month to mixed reviews at the Edinburgh Festival.

The controversial satire about Islamic terrorism includes such classic tunes as "Building A Bomb Today, What Does The Manual Say" and "I Wanna Be Like Osama". The play's featured love ballad (sung by the young hero to his burkha-clad mentor) is called "I Only See Your Eyes". In another scene, a French crowd sings "We Turned And Ran", whose lyrics go as follows:
Sacre bleu! Zut alors! I was all for ‘oly War!
But I ‘ad no fire to quench!
My brothers in arms tried to squash my qualms.
But I’m afraid that I’m too French!

So as zay marched to fight ze enemy!
From under ze bed I ‘eard ze charge!
I ‘ad been ‘iding zair all afternoon,
Wis a beret and some fromage!

So zen I teep-toed to ze l’aéroport!
And got on a non-stop flight to Cannes!
While lesser men would fight, I made sure zat I’m all right,
Being French, I turned and ran!

Turned and ran, turned and ran!
Better living as a mouse than die a man!
Sroughout l’histoire, it’s la France’s oldest plan.
Turned and ran, turned and ran, turned and ran!

Producer James Lawler has downplayed the protest, saying: "We have no intention of causing offence or insult with this show-- it is simply a musical comedy."

"Jihad: The Musical" tells the story of a young Afghan peasant, Sayid. Coming from the desert, Sayid dreams of proving himself to his bossy sister Shazzia and to the world, by making it as a flower farmer. Enchanted by a mysterious veiled woman, he leaps at her offer to work for a company that ‘exports poppies’ to the West. Unfortunately, Sayid soon discovers that the woman is a terrorist, and the company a front for a jihadi cell seeking to blow up targets in the West, most particularly one known as the Unidentified, Very Prestigious Landmark.

Farce ensues as Sayid is brainwashed by the all-singing, all-dancing jihadis, vowing to fight for their cause. Meanwhile, a sinister reporter, Foxy Redstate, uncovers the plot, encouraging Sayid to keep her in the loop in the hope that such an exclusive will propel her to media stardom. Sayid finds himself caught between the terrorists on one hand and the media on the other, driven to share in their enthusiasm for the impending terrorist spectacular. Fortunately help is on the way in the form of his no-nonsense sister, who teams up with a surrender-prone Frenchman to come to the rescue. Everything comes to a head on the night of the attack, where, caught between his sister, the bloodthirsty global media, and the jihadis he has come to see as a new family, Sayid has to decide whose side he is really on.

In its review of the show, the Independent said: "The truth is that although the show doesn't exactly bomb, neither Zoe Samuel's lyrics nor Evan Cabnet's production are quite sharp enough to offend. It could have been a lot more topical and hard-hitting if it wanted to be really inflammatory." The reviewer added that the ending was "almost heart-warming".

Getting Caught Googling on Earth

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who Says Sex Doesn't Sell?

An ad for a German vacuum cleaner (bottom left, in case you hadn't noticed)

Selling American shower gel (bottom right, for the record):

Print ad for Italian toilet paper (bottom right, by the way):

Promo for Ipod music players (bottom left):

Spaces of Death

From Jamie Pietras at, you can read in detail about one of the more twisted phenomenons to hit the web recently-- a site called MyDeathSpace, which connects its audience not only to news about recent deaths, but to the MySpace pages of the deceased. Just below the cartoonish skull logo and tombstones that are prominently branded on its front page, the site promises "one death or suicide an hour."

Most of the victims listed are in their teens or 20s, and each is memorialized according to the same standardized format: with an unattributed news story, an obituary (or in some cases, a blog entry that details the circumstances surrounding the death), a photo of the victim, usually culled from a once-active MySpace account, a link to the MySpace page, and a discussion board link at the bottom.

When a person dies, his or her MySpace page and its assortment of photos, blog entries, songs, and videos becomes a de facto shrine to the deceased -- teenage life's trivialities, dilemmas and existential crises packaged and displayed as a neat narrative.

That narrative may continue well beyond death if victims have left their message boards open to the public, as friends, family members and even strangers add comments to the page. (MySpace's default configuration allows comments to be posted without a user's preapproval). The MySpace version of one's life story even has a soundtrack, depending on whatever death metal, hip-hop or emo track users choose to embed in their profile. For some, it's a form of reality-based entertainment, of the most morbid variety. MyDeathSpace's avid fan base scours the news for recent tragedies and keeps the site current by submitting deaths for consideration.

MyDeathSpace is the creation of Mike Patterson, a 26-year-old San Francisco paralegal. Patterson claims he created the site to teach teens a "lesson" about risky behaviors, especially when it comes to driving automobiles. Today, MyDeathSpace claims more than 8,000 registered users. Registration allows members to receive notification of new deaths by e-mail, chat electronically with others, and most important, post on the discussion boards. Others sign up to become premium members, which grants them access to new deaths 24 hours before they become publicly available.

What began as a platform for virtual rubbernecking took on new significance after the massacre at Virginia Tech University. The tragedy offered a glimpse of a new meta-reality: 17 of the victims had MySpace profiles, which mainstream press outlets eagerly scoured for information. No organization was better equipped to handle MySpace-trolling duties than MyDeathSpace. The next morning, the New York Times blog was pointing traffic toward the site, described as specializing in "respects and tributes to the recently deceased" members. Tens of thousands flocked to it, and hundreds signed up for accounts, which allowed them to post in the discussion forums. Unable to handle the increased bandwidth, the server crashed.

For better or worse, this is a new American way of death, where a MySpace page takes the place of your obituary and becomes fodder for worldwide forum banter. A person may die, but the MySpace page does not -- as a matter of policy, MySpace only removes inactive profiles at the request of a family member. An active MySpace page is typically the only prerequisite to earning a spot on MyDeathSpace, which now lists more than 2,800 deceased individuals. Most are between the ages of 16 and 23.

The more robust a victim's MySpace page, the more lively the MyDeathSpace discussion is likely to be. Occasionally, a MySpace page reflects the circumstances of a person's death with eerie prescience -- the photos of guns maintained by someone killed by a gunshot, the drug-related songs and movies enjoyed by a person who goes on to overdose, or the proclivities toward thrill-seeking professed by someone who dies recklessly.

Taken as the cautionary tales Patterson says he envisions, the collected tragedies on MyDeathSpace are chilling. After all, the young rarely die of natural causes. They die of suicides and murders; of daredevil stunts involving moving trucks and merry-go-rounds; and, of course, alcohol and drug overdoses. One 21-year-old soldier discussed was found dead after drinking Southern Comfort through a funnel.

Grieving family members who use the site to find solace or sympathy aren't always embraced warmly, though. A woman identifying herself as "TarasMom," the mother of a murdered grandson and daughter, posted in a forum last August, warning users that their barbs toward the dead "cut like a knife."

Members responded in typically caustic fashion. "I am sorry about your loss, but this is AMERICA, land of the free," wrote one user. "Dead people don't need mothers and I'm sure there has to be something about you more interesting than being some chick's mom. Why not move on?" another added.

While some have written to Patterson threatening to sue MyDeathSpace or have the site shut down, there is little First Amendment basis for actually doing so, according to David Hudson, a research attorney with the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. After all, MySpace profiles that are open to the public effectively become public information. And legally speaking, it is impossible to defame a dead person. So far, the site has yet to meet a legal challenge.

Visitors who write Patterson e-mails critical of MyDeathSpace run the risk of having the text of their e-mail (and oftentimes, their e-mail address) publicly displayed on a "Hate Mail" discussion thread. Members often respond by trolling the Internet for facts or photos about the complainant in order to post them. When Salon contacted several people who are critical of the site, none would speak for the sake of an article, fearing repercussions by the MyDeathSpace community.

Patterson argues that if you don't like the site, don't come to it. But tell that to those who arrive at MyDeathSpace inadvertently, having Googled the name of a deceased friend or relative. Nevertheless, Patterson respects the wishes of family members who want to have a child's MyDeathSpace profile deleted, except, he says, in the case of convicted murderers.

Patterson packs MyDeathSpace with advertisements for dating services, death-related sweepstakes and merchandise, and even a graphic video of animal slaughter courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Though he charges both for ad space and premium memberships, Patterson says he doesn't "make any money" from the Web site. But some of the site's defenders point out that morticians have long profited from death, and if people are going to criticize Patterson for profiting from the public's insatiable obsession with death, shouldn't they also go after Fox News, MSNBC and any other news outlet that fawned for weeks over the minutiae of Anna Nicole Smith's death and autopsy?

Patterson says the site provides links to suicide prevention hotlines and that he once intervened personally when he was contacted by a 15-year-old girl who implied that she was thinking of killing herself, when she asked a site administrator to save her a postmortem "spot" on MyDeathSpace.

Whatever the real motivation behind the site (altruistic or not), MyDeathSpace remains an equally potent warning about the dangers of activity online. "Once you have a MySpace page, you've exposed yourself to be open to anything," says Amber Perry. Moderator Terisa Davis agrees, noting that she keeps her own MySpace blog postings private: "I don't necessarily want the whole world reading that."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Itchy and Scratchy

French police have detained a man who admitted sprinkling itching powder on young children at the Disneyland theme park near Paris and filming them as they scratched themselves.

The 50-year-old was arrested after a German tourist spotted him sprinkling her 11-year-old niece's underwear with itching powder. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, a police search of the man's home later revealed a hoard of child pornography on his computer, and child porn DVDs and video footage hidden in a secret compartment in his bathroom.

The videos included sequences of the suspect raping one of his nieces, and of a series of sexual assaults on other minors. The man, who admitted the offenses, was placed under formal investigation and released on conditions that included an order to seek treatment. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of raping a minor and 10 years for aggravated sexual assault on minors.


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