Saturday, March 31, 2007

The War In Iraq: Pull Out Now!

Getting Gypped in Egypt

An Alexandria court convicted an Egyptian blogger last month for insulting both Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and sentenced him to four years in jail over his writings on the Internet.

Abdel Karim Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student who has been in custody since November, was the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for his Internet writings. He was convicted in connection with eight articles he wrote since 2004.

Rights groups and opposition bloggers have watched Suleiman's case closely, and said they feared a conviction could set a legal precedent limiting Internet freedom in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country. "It's a dangerous precedent because it will impact the only free space available now, which is the Internet. The charges were undefined and vague," said a fellow blogger who attended the trial. "Tell me. What does insulting the president mean? What is the difference between criticizing religion and being in contempt of religion?" he added, asking to remain anonymous.

The Internet has emerged as a major forum for critics of the Egyptian government to express their views in a country where the large daily newspapers and main television stations are state-run.

While Suleiman was the first blogger to go on trial for the content of his writings, other opposition bloggers have been arrested periodically during street protests and then held for weeks or months before being released.

Suleiman, a Muslim and a liberal, has not denied writing the articles but said they merely represented his own views. His lawyers said they planned to appeal the verdict, and one member of the defense team described the trial as unfair. One of Suleiman's articles said that al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the most prominent seats of Sunni Muslim learning, was promoting extreme ideas. Another article, headlined "The Naked Truth of Islam as I Saw it", accused Muslims of savagery during clashes between Muslims and Christians in Alexandria in 2005. He has also described some of the companions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad as "terrorists", and has likened Mubarak to dictatorial pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt.

"I was hoping that he would get a harsher sentence because he presented to the world a bad image of Egypt. There are things that one should not talk about, like religion and politics. He should have got a 10-year sentence," said lawyer Nizar Habib, who attended the trial as a member of the public.

Information is Power

Here's an interesting essay on Internet censorship by Hari Kunzru from Another Sky: Writings from Prison around the World to be published on April 12.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Earth to Johnny: Coming In For A Landing Soon?

John Travolta, star of "Battlefield Earth" and owner (and frequent user) of a five-airplane fleet (left) has decided the time was right to lecture the world on fuel economy. At the British premiere of "Wild Hogs", the famous scientologist said that his fans should "do their bit" to tackle global warming.

Travolta, who has admittedly logged over 30,000 flying miles in the past 12 months (producing the equivalent of 800 tons of carbon emissions) has produced environmentally-damaging emissions at nearly 100 times the rate of an average person (according to a recent study by the British-funded Carbon Trust). At the premiere, he also spoke of the importance of helping the environment by using "alternative methods of fuel" – after driving down the red carpet on a Harley Davidson.

Travolta claimed the solution to global warming could be found in outer space and by building huge domes around major cities (this is all coming from a man who believes that an evil galactic warlord named Xenu rounded up 13.5 trillion beings 75 million years ago and dumped them into Earth's volcanoes, after which their radioactive souls were vaporized by bombs and attached themselves to human beings-- whew!)

Travolta's role as a "serving ambassador" for the Australian airline Qantas doesn't seem to have much to do with earning a living as an actor. Nor does a recent, two-month round-the-world flying trip. "It [global warming] is a very valid issue," Travolta declared. "I'm wondering if we need to think about other planets and dome cities.

One of the world's leading climate change businesses, the Carbon Neutral Company, has written to Travolta, suggesting ways he could reduce his alarming levels of emissions. He has yet to respond to their advice. Environmental groups were quick to criticise Travolta for "discrediting the cause".

John Buckley, managing director-of, said: "John Travolta has such a high-profile celebrity status, so what he says carries an extraordinary amount of weight. So it is such a shame when someone of his standing is so outspoken about green issues, yet fails to practise what he preaches."

"It is vital for celebrities to toe the line when they speak out in support of it."

Spineless Bastards

A deadly species of jellyfish, translucent and the size of a thumbnail, is spreading along Australia’s coastline, scientists warned this week.

Irukandji jellyfish are among the world’s most toxic creatures – all but impossible to detect in the water but packing a potentially lethal punch belying their tiny size. Until recently it was thought that they were confined to Australia’s northern tropical waters, but marine biologists have now found them off Queensland’s Fraser Island — a popular tourist spot about 400 miles south of their previously assumed range. Dr. Jamie Seymour, from James Cook University, said he had found five of the animals off the island.

“You can’t now say the waters around Fraser Island are jellyfish safe. I mean, these animals have the potential to kill you,” he told reporters. “The ones we were catching weren’t any bigger than your thumbnail. They’ve got tentacles that are probably a half to three quarters of a metre long, and pretty much transparent. So unless you really know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to see them in the water.”

If they migrate south in sufficient numbers, irukandji would threaten the safety of swimmers, surfers and snorkellers along southern Queensland’s Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast holiday destinations.

Little is known about their biology but their toxicity is legendary. One of the tiny jellyfish was blamed for killing a 58-year-old British tourist, Richard Jordan, in the Whitsunday Islands of Queensland in 2002. A few months later, a 44-year-old American tourist was stung and also died.

Increased sea temperatures would extend the species’ range south, Dr Seymour said. But the tourism industry said it would be alarmist and premature to warn tourists of the new threat to their safety. “We don’t want a perception to spread that every Sunshine Coast beach is a killing field,” said Daniel Gschwind, the head of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.

Story: Nick Squires, Daily Telegraph

Insuring or Ensuring Sick Patients? CA Blue Cross Not So Sure

California's Department of Managed Health Care randomly selected 90 (of more than 1,000) cancelled individual Blue Cross plans and investigated whether the company had cause to cancel them. As it turns out, Blue Cross broke the rules in every single case-- all 90 of the sampled policies were illegally terminated.

The policies were individually purchased plans in which policy holders had become pregnant or sick, apparently triggering Blue Cross to rescind the policy. Adding insult to injury, the policies were cancelled retroactively—leaving individuals, hospitals and doctors holding the bag for care already provided. According to California law, policies can only be rescinded if the applicant lies on the application to conceal pre-existing conditions.

Individuals pay exorbitant premiums for coverage purchased outside of employer group plans, and are also more vulnerable to such cancellations in California law. But this is bad news for everyone, not just those who have to buy individual plans. Who pays when hospitals and doctors aren't reimbursed? The taxpayers do-- one way or the other. Taxpayers also paid for the state's investigation, whose end result is a piddly $1 million suit against Blue Cross, whose annual profit is more than three times that. Blue Cross policy holders funded an entire division of the company that is devoted to finding reasons to cancel the policies of sick or pregnant people.

About 6.5 million California residents, or about 18 percent of the population, lack health insurance.

Story: Cameron Scott,

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dumbing Down The News

Time magazine has joined the ranks of Newsweek in deciding that Americans are too stupid to appreciate in-depth reporting on Afghanistan-- a country where we are (supposedly) waging a major war on the Taliban.

Every world edition of Time magazine this week has a cover story on the resurgence of the Taliban-- except the U.S. edition, where we get treated to a blase cover hawking a story on whether the Bible should be taught in public schools (Bible: yes; religion: no-- in my opinion)

The move by Time echoes a similar decision by Newsweek last fall, when they pre-empted a worldwide cover story on Afghanistan with a U.S. celebrity cover of photographer Annie Leibovitz. By the way, Newsweek got "called on the carpet" by Jon Stewart for white-washing the nature of Leibovitz's same-sex partnership in its coverage.

Ruffling Feathers In Turkey

Turkey’s largest internet services provider shut down access to the YouTube video-sharing web site earlier this month after a court ruling that some of its content insulted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The decision followed days of furious insult-sharing among Turkish and Greek users of the popular and controversial site.

The result was a flood of complaints to the site and to the media from Turkish users angered by what one newspaper said were “fanatic Greeks broadcasting videos” insulting Ataturk. A court ordered access to the site be blocked after prosecutors brought a case against YouTube.

A message posted on the site the next day said access had been suspended following a decision by an Istanbul court. One video posted on the site allegedly claimed that Ataturk and Turks were ‘homosexuals’. Ataturk, who died in 1938, is a revered figure in Turkey and it is a crime to ‘insult’ him or state institutions. Many writers, including the Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk, have faced trial for works that allegedly breach this law.

Paul Doany, chief executive of Turk Telekom, said the company had received a faxed copy of the court’s decision and that YouTube’s services have been suspended in Turkey in accordance with this decision, he said. Two days later, access to the site was restored after YouTube agreed to remove the offending video.

Losers? Freedom of speech, of course; YouTube, who proved yet again what little backbone they have; and Turkey, who is that much further away from being accepted into the EU.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell; Don't Sass, Don't Spell

Jersey City resident Corey Andrew recently posted his profile on, hoping to nab some work as a copywriter. But the response he received was anything but typical.

His resume brought several potential suitors, including an Army recruiter named Marcia Ramode. Andrew had no interest in joining the Army, but asked whether he would be able to serve in the Army as a gay man. The question sparked a bizarre three-day exchange, escalating into a bigoted tirade from the recruiter and an official military investigation.

Using a military email address, U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Marcia Ramode fired off a series of emails making such statements as " "take your gay ass off someplace", "you as an African have no place to say your roots are deeply rooted here. My roots are much stronger than yours you were brought here being your willpower" and "your freedom of speech was given to you by the military." Andrew responded by criticizing her vocabulary and poor spelling and, after finding out she was a Native American wrote, "So take that to your next rain dance."

The recruiter polished off the exchange with this humdinger:



The Army appears to be taking the email exchange seriously, releasing a statement that said, "The command expects its recruiters to conduct themselves in a professional manner in all dealings with potential applicants and members of the public."


A 'monster' cane toad the size of a small dog was captured in Australia this week. An environmentalist 'caged' the toxic beast, which is blamed for killing countless animals since being introduced to Australia in the 1930's.

The volunteer-run organization, Frogwatch, picked up the 15-inch-long cane toad during a raid on a pond outside the northern city of Darwin. With a body the size of a football and weighing 2 pounds, the 'monster toad' is among the largest specimens ever captured in Australia, according to Frogwatch coordinator Graeme Sawyer.

'It's huge, to put it mildly,' he said. 'The biggest toads are usually females but this one was a rampant male. I would hate to meet his big sister.'

Cane toads were imported from South America during the 1930's in a failed attempt to control beetles on Australia's northern sugar cane plantations. The poisonous toads have proven fatal to Australia's delicate ecosystems, killing millions of native animals from snakes to the small crocodiles that eat them.

As part of its so-called 'Toad Buster' project, Frogwatch conducts regular raids on local water holes, blinding the toads with bright lights then scooping them up by the dozen. 'We kill them with carbon dioxide gas, stockpile them in a big freezer and then put them through a liquid fertilizer process that renders the toads nontoxic,' Sawyer said.

'It turns out to be sensational fertilizer,' he added.

Killing The Messenger

Earlier this month, the French Constitutional Council approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned.

The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991. The officers’ acquittal sparked riots in Los Angeles.

If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, said Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi. And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $98,537-- potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.

The broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities, said Cohet. He is concerned that the law, and others still being debated, will lead to the creation of a parallel judicial system controlling the publication of information on the Internet.

The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’
organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification would suppress certain stories.

See Associated Press story

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Buddha Boy Now Meditating In Underground Bunker

The Nepali teenager dubbed the "Buddha Boy" has now
begun meditating for three years in an underground
bunker and will neither sleep, eat nor drink any water
during that time, supporters claimed Tuesday.

Ram Bahadur Bomjan, 17, who supporters insist is the
reincarnation of the Buddha, shot to fame in May 2005
amid reports he did not need food, water or sleep
while meditating. He has, however, been spotted
nibbling on fruit and catching a nap.

"We've constructed an underground room with a tiled
roof as requested by Bomjan," said Raju Shah, a member
of a village committee set up to support the
activities of the young man. The cement-walled
bunker is seven feet deep and is located in the jungle
40 miles southeast of Kathmandu, according to Shah.

Tens of thousands of people came to visit the teenager
at his first meditation site under a pipal tree in the
same area. He vanished from the original site in
March 2006 after meditating for 10 months. Bomjam
returned to the same area to meditate in December
2006, but disappeared again recently.

"While he was wandering round the jungle, he met a
villager and asked him to construct an underground
room. We began doing it immediately and he has
started to meditate there," Shah told reporters. "This
time he does not want visitors -- not even his
family," said Shah.

Cunning Linguist

Buddha Boy - Update

A Nepalese teenager hailed as a reincarnation of the Buddha has vanished for a second time in southern Nepal, a member of his support committee has said. Ram Bahadur Bomjam, 17, who shot to fame in 2005 when his supporters said he had begun a meditation session that would go on uninterrupted for years, went missing again two weeks ago, the committee member said.

"He suddenly disappeared from his meditating site in the jungle of Bara," said Raju Shah, a member of the committee set up after the boy became a local media sensation. "He told his priest Indra Lama that he would meditate somewhere in other undisclosed locations."

Local media dubbed Bomjan "Buddha Boy" after supporters said he had been meditating for months without food, water or sleep, and tens of thousands of people flocked to see him. He first disappeared in March 2006, telling his supporters the site had become too crowded. Nine months later he reappeared and was set up at a new site by the committee, but this time visitors have been sparse.

Scepticism about the teenager's claims increased after his reappearance late last year, and local authorities froze bank accounts containing money collected from visitors.

Gautama Siddhartha, who later became known as Buddha or the Enlightened One, is believed to have been born in southern Nepal in around 500 BC. Buddhists believe Siddhartha achieved enlightenment after meditating under a pipal tree.

Freedom Of Speech Suffers Another Blow In Russia

A military correspondent for Russias top business daily died earlier this month after falling out of a window, and some media have alleged that he might have been killed for his critical reporting.

Ivan Safronov, the military affairs writer for Kommersant, died after falling from a fifth-story window in the stairwell of his apartment building in Moscow, officials said. His body was found by neighbors shortly after the fall. At the time of his death, Safronov was investigating sales of weapons by Russia to Syria and Iran. According to his paper, the arms were being sold via Belarus to avoid the west accusing Russia of arming rogue states.

With prosecutors investigating the death, Kommersant and some other media suggested foul play. The suicide theory has become dominant in the investigation, but all those who knew Ivan Safronov categorically reject it, Kommersant said in its reporting.

Safronovs colleagues and relatives have described him as a strong, cheerful person who would be extremely unlikely to kill himself.

Safronov, who had served as a colonel in the Russian Space Forces before joining Kommersant in 1997, frequently angered the authorities with his critical reporting. He was repeatedly questioned by the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor, which suspected him of divulging state secrets. No charges were filed because Safronov was able to prove his reports were based on open sources, Kommersant said.

Last December, Safronov angered the authorities when he was the first to report the third consecutive launch failure of the new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, which President Vladimir Putin hailed as a basis of the nations nuclear might for years to come. The authorities never acknowledged the launch failure.

For some reason, it is those journalists who are disliked by the authorities who die in Russia, the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said. Ivan Safronov was one of those. He knew a lot about the real situation in the army and the defense industries and he reported it.

Russia is among the most dangerous countries for journalists, plagued by attacks on reporters who seek to expose official corruption and other abuses. The problem was highlighted by the October killing of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter and a harsh critic of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in January that 13 Russian journalists have been murdered in contract-style killings since 2006, making Russia the third deadliest country for journalists after Iraq and Algeria over the past 15 years.

The online Independent has chronicled the deaths of 20 high-profile journalists in Russia since Putin took office. All of them had published reporting critical of the Putin government, and all died under mysterious circumstances.

Monday, March 26, 2007

TB Or Not To Be Free-- That Is The Question

A man infected with an especially virulent strain of tuberculosis has spent eight months in a hospital jail ward under a court order and may be held until he dies.

Robert Daniels has not been charged with a crime, but the 27-year-old violated the rules of a voluntary quarantine, exposing others to a potentially deadly illness. Maricopa County public health officials got a court order to keep him locked up. The TB strain Daniels has is so dangerous that he has never met his appointed lawyer, Robert Blecher, who describes the situation as "extremely unusual." Daniels' hospital room is designed so that air flows in, never out, to prevent the bacterium from spreading. Daniels, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Russia, contracted "extreme multidrug resistant tuberculosis" while living in Russia, court records show.

He was diagnosed two years ago in Russia, and said he came to Phoenix in January 2006 after being told drugs were hard to get and expensive. Daniels went to a Phoenix hospital with respiratory problems in July 2006, and was sent to a Phoenix halfway house for indigent TB patients under a voluntary quarantine. He was ordered to continue treatment and wear a mask when he went out in public because the disease is spread by airborne contact. Daniels stopped taking his medication and went unmasked to a restaurant, a convenience market and other stores, court records stated. Robert England, Maricopa County's tuberculosis control
officer, said in court filings that Daniels understands the rules, but "merely refuses to follow them."

England applied for and received a "compulsory detention" order for Daniels, a legal tool used about once a year in Arizona. Daniels, who has a wife and child in Russia, said in a telephone interview with The Arizona Republic that he didn't want to confuse people by wearing a mask and that doctors at Russian clinics where he was treated didn't even wear masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were 14,097 cases of TB in the United States last year. Just 15 were of the rare strain Daniels has. Prospects for his release are unclear. A 2006 medical assessment indicated the disease was mutating in Daniels.

Story: Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic

Drums Are Beating Ever More Strongly for Gonzales

On "Fox News Sunday," Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) for the first time publicly joined calls for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. Bloggers are still circling the body of AG, expecting imminent carnage.

In his Sunday NYT column, Frank Rich compared AG to Michael Corleone's brother Fredo, waiting to be whacked.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

'Chaudhry' Curry Spicing Up Political Front in Pakistan

Pakistani police have detained hundreds of opposition activists in a crackdown ahead of protests planned against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's removal of the Supreme Court's chief judge, opposition leaders said today. Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said he had no information about any opposition detentions ahead of the opposition rallies scheduled to take place across Pakistan on Monday.

The protests are the latest in a judicial crisis sparked by Musharraf's removal of Judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9. Musharraf suspended Chaudhry over unspecified allegations that the independent-minded judge had abused his authority. Musharraf has defended his move against Chaudhry, saying it was not politically motivated and followed the Constitution. But opposition political groups and lawyers accuse Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a 1999 coup, of trying to tame the court before elections likely to trigger legal challenges to his rule.

Since Chaudhry's removal, lawyers and opposition groups have held a series of protests across Pakistan against Musharraf. Some have turned violent, leaving several people injured. More protests are planned for Monday by the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, the main anti-Musharraf opposition grouping which includes the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Hundreds of alliance supporters have been detained over the past three or four days, said Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of Pakistan Muslim League-N, a party led by Sharif. Musharraf toppled Sharif's government in 1999.

Haq condemned Musharraf's removal of Chaudhry as "unconstitutional, illegal and immoral." The detention of opposition activists "is an effort to prolong his dictatorship," Haq said. Sherpao said political parties should not turn Chaudhry's removal into a political issue and should let a judicial complaints council decide the judge's future. Chaudhry's case is before the Supreme Judicial Council, a panel of senior judges, which can either confirm or throw out the allegations he faces. The council is scheduled to resume hearings in Chaudhry's case on April 3.

Story: Sadaqat Jan, AP

The Jumper

This didn't come to me with the name of the artist, but I'd be happy to give credit if I knew his/her name.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

They Call Him Mellow Yellow

"Japan is doing what Americans can't do. Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it's probably no good. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."

-- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso describing how Japan was better at Middle East relations than the U.S.

Spank My Monkey

What exactly went on between gorillas and early humans? No one knows for sure, but scientists say one thing, at least, seems certain: The big apes gave us pubic lice.

Researchers made the uncomfortable discovery during a DNA study reconstructing the evolutionary history of lice in humans and our primate relatives. The transfer occurred about 3.3 million years ago, said study leader David Reed, of the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's when the gorilla louse and the human pubic louse separated into distinct species, the research revealed.

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) weren't around at the time. So the first to be infested by the new lice species were probably Australopithecus, a group of human ancestors that include the famous "Lucy" fossil. Prior to the transfer our ancestors were troubled by only one species of body louse, as chimpanzees and gorillas are today. Why humans can harbor two species—head lice and pubic lice—has been a mystery until now.

The discovery raises the same vexing question faced by anyone who has contracted pubic lice: How exactly did this happen? Pubic lice are spread most commonly through sexual contact, but that's not necessarily how our ancestors acquired the parasite from gorillas.

"Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure," Reed said. "Given that the [gorilla louse] species occurs primarily in the pubic region, it is quite possible that the lice were transmitted sexually."

Article: Scott Norris, National Geographic News

Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

A controversial South African invention-- a female condom-like anti-rape device dubbed the “rape trap”, is almost ready to hit the market after months of waiting for patent verification.

The device, known as Rapex, has stirred controversy around the world but its inventor, Sonnet Ehlers, is preparing the final pre-production phase after seven years of waiting.

The controversy has raged over whether the device, which has fish-like teeth that attach to the head and shaft of the penis, is a medieval device built on a hatred of men or whether it is an easy-to-use invention that could free millions of South African women from fear of rape. In the latest crime statistics, South Africa recorded a staggering 54,926 rape cases, giving it one of the worst sexual assault records in the world.

Since publicly announcing her invention one-and-half years ago, Ehlers has shot to international fame, stirring a worldwide debate about the merits of her anti-rape device.

She has been on talk radio shows in England and Australia and even South American journalists have descended on Kleinmond to interview her. Critics say that the device harkens back to “the concept of chastity belts" and would incite injured rapists to kill their victims. "This is a medieval instrument, based on male-hating notions and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of rape and violence against women in this society," said Charlene Smith, one of South Africa's most prominent campaigners against rape. It is vengeful, horrible, and disgusting. The woman who invented this needs help."

"I am not a male hater, but why must the woman always be the one degraded by rape?" said Ehlers. Even Rape Crisis Cape Town argues that Rapex is not a solution to the social problem of rape. They have argued that such a device increases women's vulnerability to violence. But for Ehlers, this device-- which is inserted in the vagina-- could give women vital seconds to escape the rapist while he was busy dealing with his pain.

"The surprise factor will give women a chance to escape," says Ehlers, explaining that the rapist would be in great pain as the 25 teeth attach themselves to the shaft of the penis.

The rapist also has to contend with the fact that only a doctor can remove the fish-like teeth. "I want these men to be identified. I want a way that will prove that penetration took place," said Ehlers.

With production scheduled for next month, Ehlers said the product will be mass-produced in China to keep costs down.

Article: Sivuyile Mangxamba, Pretoria News; Photo: Reuters

Friday, March 23, 2007

¿Como se dice mentir?

According to Associated Press reports, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting-- based on documents released late Friday that contradict earlier claims that he was not closely involved in the dismissals. At the November 27 meeting, Gonzales signed off on a five-step "firing plan" crafted by his Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, who last week was the first casualty of the firestorm.

In his initial March 13 statement regarding his involvement in the firings, Gonzales said, "I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers . . . But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general."

Remember-- this is from the same man who is "just not clear" whether his Mexican immigrant grandparents were undocumented or not.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is It Still Legal To Even Buy Tobacco Anymore?

A Swedish woman has been sued for smoking in her own garden. Her neighbor in Akarp in southern Sweden (a lawyer, natch) has demanded 15,000 kroner ($2,000) in damages for her previous smoking plus another 2,000 kroner ($280) every time she lights up in the future. She has received a district court summons to respond to his complaint.

"It makes me sad and angry," the 49-year-old single mom said. "Should somebody else be able to control my life?" The woman said she has already made concessions to her neighbor's dislike of cigarette smoke, including picking a spot to light up that is more than 20 feet from his property.

In court filings, the lawyer complains that he is hit with cigarette smoke every time he enters or leaves his house and has been unable to open his windows. As if he never blew smoke up someone else's ass.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Update: Cannibalism Charges For The "Butcher of Noida"

Charges of cannibalism in the New Delhi "House of Horrors" child murder case emerged amid reports that the main suspect bribed police to thwart an investigation when parents first came forward.

After being arrested almost a year ago, millionaire Moninder Singh Pandher walked out of the police station the same night, allegedly after paying 250,000 rupees ($7200) , according to the Times of India. "Had it not been for a few greedy police officers in Noida, lives of over a dozen victims could possibly have been saved."

No less sensational were new claims of cannibalism involving Pandher's manservant Surendra Kohli, with reports he had admitted killing many of the children and eating parts of their bodies. "This is probably the reason why torsos of the bodies have not yet been found," the paper said.

The pair are accused of kidnapping and abusing up to 40 children, before strangling them and cutting up their bodies, which were then left in a drain outside his mansion in Noida.

An oven on the terrace of Pandher's house has been checked, and "fragments of hu-man flesh were found in the coal-fired oven," the newspaper said. "Several large cans of acids and chemicals, which could have been used to dissolve the bodies, are also learnt to have been found on the same terrace," it reported.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mmm, Mmm Good!

Television station WAGT of August, Georgia was frantically having copies of a recent newscast taken down from YouTube claiming “copyright violation”. Lesson learned: whenever lifting art from an image library, make sure you look at it very closely before using it on national TV.

Monday, March 19, 2007

For Cryin' Out Loud

Hundreds of chickens have been found dead in east China-- and a court has ruled that the cause of death was the screaming of a four-year-old boy who in turn had been scared by a barking dog.

The bizarre sequence of events began when the boy arrived at a village home in the eastern province of Jiangsu in the summer with his father who was deliver-ing bottles of gas, according to state media. A villager was quoted as saying the little boy bent over the henhouse window, screaming for a long time, after being scared by the dog.

"One neighbor told police that he had heard the boy's crying that afternoon and another villager confirmed the boy screaming by the henhouse window.” A court ruled the boy's screaming was "the only unexpected abnormal sound" and that 443 chickens trampled each other to death in fear. The boy's father was ordered to pay 1,800 yuan ($230) in compensation to the owner of the chickens.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Obama Mama

Patent and Trademark officials in Washington, DC have rejected a Florida man's bid to trademark the term "Obama bin Laden," ruling that the conflation of the names of a U.S. Senator and the world's leading terrorist was "scandalous" and wrongly suggested a connection between the politician and the mass murderer.

Last month, Alexandre Batlle, a 28-year-old Miami resident, filed an application to trademark the term for use on hats, shirts, pins, and bumper stickers. Citing regulations dealing with "false association," PTO noted that the application was also refused because it did not include "the written consent of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden, the names of the living individuals identified."

Batlle, who paid $325 to file his application, does not plan to appeal the decision, since he only wanted to use "Obama bin Laden" to "make a quick buck." Batlle, who described him-self as "more of a Democrat my-self," planned to sell t-shirts through, which he registered on January 19, the same day he filed his trademark application.

The application was accompanied with the proposed artwork for one shirt, which features Obama carrying an assault rifle and wearing a turban. Obama is accompanied by Hillary Clinton, who appears to be leashed and wearing a modified burqa.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Whoever Said The Shit Was Gonna Fly Was Right

About 600,000 people in Kenya's capital live in the Kibera slums, East Africa's largest informal settlement. Congestion is a major problem-- there is not even the space to build toilets. At the moment, there is an average of one toilet per 2,000 people.

Some frustrated residents use polythene bags commonly known as "flying toilets" to dispose of human waste. Said one resident, "It's not safe to go out at night as the toilets are far, so often we are forced to use a polythene bags to relieve ourselves and dump them outside." Flying toilets become a hazard during the rainy season, as water sources get contaminated. Waste coming from the slum has now choked up the nearby Nairobi dam.

International aid organizations have constructed a total of 286 pit latrines across the Kibera slum. But the per-use charge is approximately three U.S. cents, which most residents here cannot afford. Residents are now leading a campaign to convince the land-lords to provide at least the space of a room per renting block for the construction of toilets.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hazing Campaign Pledges

“Barack Obama's so slender his wedding band looked as if it was slipping off. There was a wariness in his dark eyes. [He was a] tad testy traipsing around desolate stretches of snowy-- and extremely white-- Iowa."

-- New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who later reported that Obama repeatedly got indignant about the beach-babe attention given to a photo of him in the Hawaiian surf-- to which Dowd snapped, "He poses for the cover of men’s Vogue and then gets huffy when people don't treat him as Hannah Arendt."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Papa New Guinea Beatdown

The murderous cannibal calling himself ‘Black Jesus’, who raped and murdered at least three girls, has finally been captured. Steven Tari, 35, was caught and beaten by a group of angry villagers who handed him over to police.

Thousands gathered to shout abuse at Tari, a failed Bible student who claims to be the True Christ, when he was brought to the police station in Madang. Tari had gathered more than 6,000 disciples as he traveled through mountain villages promising followers that they would receive gifts from heaven if they followed him.

But jungle communities were horrified to learn that Tari sacrificed three young women, drinking their blood and eating their flesh, as part of his bizarre ceremonies. Tari was eventually captured in a small village called Matepi, a seven-hour walk from the nearest road.

A church pastor, Paul Makura, said it had been difficult for the police to catch Tari as he never stayed for long in one place and was always warned when police were in the area.

Mr. Makura said: "He came to Matepi about two weeks ago, and the community-- alarmed at reports he had killed women-- convinced him to stay on. When he went to a hut to rest, a group of villagers broke in, pounced on him and tied him up."

Messages were passed down through the villages until one man with a mobile phone was able to get a call in to police in Madang. Heavily-armed officers made their way to Matepi and found Tari tied to a tree. There was no sign of his bow-and-arrow-carrying bodyguards who, on a previous occasion, had engaged in a fight to the death with police. Tari was still in possession of what he called his "magic rod", a knife and a tattered Bible, many of whose teachings he had denied in his own sermons.

Madang police commander Anthony Wagambie commended the people of Matepi for their courage. "Tari has brought a lot of shame to not only the people of Madang but Papua New Guinea as a whole," said the commander. "We are a Christian country and his deeds have not been reflective of this."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Law and Order Limpopo-Style

Police arrested 73 people who protested outside the Masemola police station in Limpopo, South Africa after demanding the release of seven men arrested for killing an elderly woman. Police inspector Maboke Lediga said the men had been involved in mob justice in which the woman was burned to death. Residents were outraged over the death of Isaac Ranabe, whom they believed had been killed by his ex-wife.

"Following Ranabe’s funeral, the residents marched to Ranabe’s ex-wife’s house and found her elderly mother there. Believing that the mother was protecting her daughter by not revealing her whereabouts, the mob doused her with gasoline and burned her alive,” said Lediga. “A case of murder was opened and we arrested seven men whom we believe were directly involved in the woman’s death.”

The following day, a crowd of around 800 residents marched to the police station to demand the release of the seven men. “We tried negotiating with them and they would not listen. After we refused to release the seven men, the crowd started getting violent, and pelted us with stones, damaging some of our cars.” According to Lediga, 73 people were eventually arrested, and will be brought before the Nebo Magistrate court on charges of public violence.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cold-blooded Vets

An iguana called Mozart, who was suffering from a permanent erection since he mated, has had his penis cut off by zoo veterinarians. The future is not entirely bleak for the green bloke, since lizards have two penises.

Keepers at Aquatopia Zoo in Antwerp (Belgium) made the decision to surgically remove the organ so that he could walk normally again. Mozart is back making music with his girlfriends and enjoying a healthy sex life again.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Full Military Honors For General Who Oversaw Walter Reed Fiasco

Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned last week after the neglect and squalor at Walter Reed military hospital was exposed. Harvey not only oversaw those conditions, but placed Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley-- who had been aware for years of the problems and apparently did nothing-- back in control of the hospital. That decision was reversed days later by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Despite the terms of his resignation, Harvey was given a celebratory farewell ceremony (pictured above). In his farewell Harvey said, “I am leaving your ranks saddened,” but claimed that the “well-being of soldiers has always been my highest priority.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Businessman, Butler Been Busy Butchering Babies

The Indian media has dubbed him the Butcher of Noida-- Moninder Singh Pandher, the millionaire businessman who is at the center of the continent’s most horrendous case of sexual depravity and pedophile serial killing.

He is accused with his manservant, Surendra Kohli, of as many as 40 cases of kidnapping young children, raping and abusing them (in some instances after they had died) and then strangling them and cutting up their bodies before disposing of the remains in a drain outside his house.

Forensic experts examining the first set of 17 corpses said the bodies had been sliced precisely and systematically. The report said 11 of the victims were young girls. The case has exposed the dark underbelly of life in the teeming Indian capital. Noida is one of Delhi's fastest-growing suburbs, a place that is attracting much of the IT investment pour-ing into the country, and the proposed site of what will be the world's tallest building.

But the reality is that as Pandher and Kohli went about the gruesome business of raping and murdering, the pleas of parents whose children had gone missing were treated with contempt by the police. The parents say they went to police dozens of times, but they did nothing. The victims were children of a lesser god-- the children of dirt-poor people with neither money nor influence. The parents believe that had the police acted on the first com-plaints, many lives could have been saved.

Reacting to the growing public anger, authorities in Uttar Pradesh have already sacked six of the local police and suspended three others. Sunil Biswas, a rickshaw puller from West Bengal, who tried to file a complaint about his missing 10-year-old daughter in April of last year, said: "Policemen were reluctant to take the complaint and told us: 'Why do you produce children if you can-not take care of them?’”

Pandher, now in his late 50s, grew up in an affluent family and built a fortune running a trucking company. He has friends in high places and is well-connected to a number of leading Punjabi politicians in India's dominant Congress party. He is the sort of person who can get away with murder.

But perhaps not this time. Police have charged Pandher and Kohli with offenses ranging from kidnapping to rape and murder. Only the number of victims is in doubt, according to police. Both men are currently under interrogation, and Kohli has reportedly admitted enticing the children into the house, using lollipops as bait. Kohli admits his complicity, according to police, but says he was only obeying his master's orders. Under interrogation, Pandher gives little away. But investigators remain sure of their case.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Oh God, I'm Coming"

Cambodian Girl Doin' The Wild Thing

A Cambodian girl who disappeared at the age of eight was found after living wild in the jungle for 19 years, according to police in Cambodia's Rattanakiri region. The girl is believed to be Rochom P'ngieng, who was thought to have been killed (along with her six-year-old sister) while tending buffalo nearly two decades ago on the edge of the jungle in the remote northern province.

Local policeman Sal Lou, who claims to be her father, says he has identified her through scars and is willing to have DNA tests taken to prove she is his daughter. After they found her, villagers clothed and fed her. But the woman, uncom-fortable in her new surroundings, rebuffed their advances, refusing to use chopsticks and fighting off anyone who approaches. “Unfortunately, she keeps crying and wants to go back to the jungle,” her father said. “She is not used to living with humans. We had to clothe her. When she is thirsty or hungry she points at her mouth.” Local villagers believe she is possessed by demons and have asked local Buddhist monks to bless her.

But skeptics say there are other possibilities to her identity. Members of Vietnamese hill tribes seeking asylum often cross into Cambodia through the jungles. Many refugees are seeking protection from religious persecution and are keen to avoid contact with the authorities. Local police said the woman was "half-human and half-animal" and could not speak any intelligible language.

Her plight came to light when a villager noticed some of his food had been taken and staked out the area, which is about 220 miles northeast of Phnom Penh. Deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun told the Associated Press that he "spotted a naked human being, who looked like a jungle person, sneaking in to steal his rice." The villager and some friends then caught the woman. Sal Lou said he recognized the woman as his daughter from a scar on her right arm. Accord-ing to Lou, "When I saw her, she was naked and walking in a bending-forward position like a monkey... She was bare bones. She was shaking and picking up grains of rice from the ground to eat."

Lou said the family began watching her closely after she took her clothes off and threatened to return to the jungle. But within 48 hours, further intriguing reports emerged of a mysterious naked man who had been spotted with the woman but ran off when challenged. As more press inquiries were made to the family, they closed ranks. They then withdrew permission to take DNA samples to confirm the woman's identity, and police have thrown a cordon around their isolated home, in an effort to keep curious neighbors and the world's media at bay.

The family of the woman, (who would be 27 if she is indeed their daughter) say they want to be left alone in order to make up for lost time. But Sal Lou's claims are so remarkable that there is little chance that they will be left in peace. Pen Bonnar, a widely respected human rights campaigner in Cambodia, is due to arrive in the Oyadao district where the family live to assess the disturbed woman's needs and try to unlock the many puzzles surrounding her story. The remoteness of the village, in the rugged mountain area close to the Vietnamese border, has made disentangling the woman's story all the more difficult.

There is still no clue to the fate of the second daughter, Chan Boeung, who was six when she disappeared on the same day. Their father said he had believed them both to have been devoured by wild animals in the forest and had long since given them up for dead. The woman's mother, Rochom Soy, 50, said she was just glad to see her long-lost daughter again. "She is really my daughter, I am very happy," she said, adding that the woman was showing signs of recognizing her and her husband.

She is able only to communicate in sign language-- patting her stomach when hungry-- and is apparently disturbed, screaming and shouting when her parents approach, which has led some to speculate that she is mentally ill. One theory among skeptics is that the marks on her wrist are the result of years of being bound, common practice among peasant villagers in dealing with mentally ill people. But with the woman now dressed in ordinary clothes, her hair cut to a neat shoulder length, the questions over her whereabouts for the last 19 years will only grow the longer she remains unable to tell her story.

Story/Photo: BBC News

Friday, March 9, 2007

Maybe We Should Make Your Parents Apologize

"African-Americans should "get over it" because no one alive today was involved in slavery. Are we going to force Jews to apologize for killing Christ?"

-- Virginia state delegate Frank Hargrove (R)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Rocky (the squirrel) Time On Dallas Flight

Just when the squirrel menace looked like it might have faded away, an American Airlines flight from Tokyo last month was forced to make an emergency landing in Honolulu because a rogue squirrel had managed to sneak on board.

The squirrel emergency was discovered when, on the flight from Tokyo to Dallas, the pilots heard what has been described as a 'skittering' noise in the space above the cockpit. Subsequent investigations revealed that the noise was caused by an insurgent squirrel that had somehow managed to board the flight. The plane was forced to make a quick landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, as the pilots were worried that the squirrel could severely damage the plane by chewing through wiring.

The passengers were taken off the plane when it landed, and were forced to spend the night in hotels while wildlife officials hunted down the squirrel. Eventually, they caught it, and – fearing it might have rabies – killed it. Nobody knows how the squirrel got on the plane.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I'm Not A Real Doctor, I Just Play One For HIV

From the pockets of his billowing white robe, Gambia's president pulls out a plastic container, closes his eyes in prayer and rubs a green herbal paste onto the ribcage of the patient--a concoction he claims is a cure for AIDS. The patient is then ordered to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas. YahyaJammeh has refused to disclose details of his herbal concoction, saying only that it uses seven plants, “three of which are not from Gambia.” The treatments are repeated over a 30-day period, during which patients must abstain from drinking alcohol, tea and coffee. They also cannot eat kola nuts or have sex.

In a continent suffering from the world's worst AIDS epidemic, Jammeh's claims of a miracle cure are alarming public health workers already struggling against superstition and distrust of the West. The biggest concern is that the Gambian leader requires patients to cease their anti-retroviral drugs, a move that risks weakening their immune systems and making them even more prone to infection.

Since January, Jammeh has thrown the bureaucratic machinery of this small West African country behind the claim. The last six news releases on Gambia's official Web site are dedicated to the president's treatment, available to Gambians free of charge. Regular radio and TV addresses publicize it and the Health Ministry has issued a declaration of support.

Although the HIV rate is relatively low in Gambia com-pared to other African nations — 1.3 percent of the country's 1.6 million people are infected — the president's claim has left interna-tional health organizations in a bind. Jammeh, a 41-year-old former army colonel who gained control in a 1994 coup, sayshis treatment is entirely voluntary and argues that his medications cannot be mixed with other drugs because "I don't want any complications."

Jammeh has gone to great lengths to prove his claim, send-ing blood samples of his first nine patients to a lab in Senegal for testing. According to those tests, four of the nine had undetectable viral loads, one had a moderate viral load and three had high loads, a result posted on the gov-ernment's Web site as proof of the cure. However, the lab technician who performed the tests warned they are not conclusive since the blood samples were only taken after the treatment. "You can't prove that some-one has been cured of AIDS from just one [post-treatment] test. You have to establish that a patient actually had AIDS in the first place. It's dishonest of the Gambian government to use our results in this way," said Dr. Coumba Toure Kane, of Cheikh Anta Diop University.

Despite the lack of evidence, there are few in the Gambia who dare doubt this 'miracle'. The President controls the media and the only message his people are hearing is that the treatment works, and patients are now queuing up outside his door. President Jammeh cures AIDS on Thursdays and asthma on Saturdays-- the rest of the time he runs the country he's ruled for 12 years. It's a place which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, and was until recently considered progressive in its approach to AIDS. Organizations which run orthodox programs to combat the spread of the virus now fear all of their work is being undone.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Chopped Spinach With Sterile Dressing On The Side

A hungry 10-year-old girl from India's lowest Hindu caste had all the fingers of her right hand chopped off by an upper-caste landowner for taking a few spinach leaves from his field. The attack took place in a village in Bhagalpur district in impoverished Bihar state in the east where caste prejudice against Dalits – formerly called "untouchables" – is widespread and sometimes results in violence against them.

Police in Bhagalpur, in eastern Bihar, said they would soon arrest the upper-caste landowner who used a sickle to wound the girl whose name was given as Khushboo. "We will get results. This is terrible," said police superintendent J. S. Gangwar, quoted by the local newspaper.

Khushboo's father said that he and his wife– both laborers– had nothing to eat in their house so they sent their daughter to collect herbs that grew along a railway line. "She just strayed (to the landlord's field) and plucked a few leaves," Sukho Ram told the newspaper. Dalits make up around 16 per cent of India's 1.1 billion population and still face discrimination in rural areas from higher castes and sometimes are victims of rape and murder. They are not allowed to enter some Hindu temples.

But Dalits have also held high office. India's first Dalit president K. R. Narayanan held office from 1997 to 2002. It was recently announced by law ministry officials that Justice K. G. Balakrishnan would become the first Dalit chief justice of India's powerful Supreme Court this year. Affirmative action in colleges, universities and in government jobs has benefited a small section of Dalits. But the majority of them still work as laborers, sweepers and toilet cleaners.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Osama Bin Dumbo

A killer elephant, dubbed 'Osama Bin Laden' after he killed over a dozen people last summer, has been shot dead near Guwahati, in India's Assam state.

Laden the elephant was tracked down by professional elephant hunters after a shoot-to-kill order was issued following the death of a woman in December. The rogue bull has trampled 14 people to death in the past six months in the northeastern state, officials say. Humans and elephants have come into greater conflict in recent years as man encroaches on jungle territories.

Villagers played drums and brandished flames to scare the elephant into a corner of a tea estate after he was spotted there, Assam wildlife wardens told reporters. "As the villagers did their bit to scare the rogue tusker, our forest guards kept firing in the air to drive Laden towards the trap hunter Dwipen Phukan had set for it."

"But it was no easy kill because once in sight of Phukan, the elephant charged furiously," said wildlife chief MC Malakar. Phukan, a licensed hunter, said: "It was charging towards me and I kept firing. Another few yards and it would have run over me." Laden was branded a "rogue"-- a violent, isolated elephant-- in the summer after the deaths reached double figures. Assam sits on the corridor used by Siamese elephants, a corridor that stretches from northern Thailand to the foothills of Bhutan.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Doctors Decry Damages Decision Dealt To Dick Dicer

Doctors' unions in Romania have criticized a decision to make a surgeon pay $240,000 in dam-ages after he lost his temper and hacked off a patient's penis during surgery. Surgeon Naum Ciomu, who had been suffering from stress at the time, had been operating on patient Nelu Radonescu, 36, to correct a testicular malformation when he suddenly lost his temper.

Grabbing a scalpel, he sliced off the penis in front of shocked nursing staff, and then placed it on the operating table where he chopped it into small pieces before storming out of the operating theatre at Bucharest hospital. A Romanian court has now awarded Radonescu $40,000 in medical costs – to pay for the operation to rebuild his ruined penis using tissue from his arm – as well as $200,000 in damages. The medical costs will be paid by the hospital's insurer, but doctors' unions have criticized the decision that the money for the damages has to be paid by the doctor. They say the move sets a dangerous precedent and that Professor Ciomu, a urologist and lecturer in anatomy, has already been punished enough after having his medical license suspended.

They said he had been under stress and had lost his temper after he accidentally cut the man's urinary channel and 'overreacted' to the situation. He told the court it was a temporary loss of judgment due to personal problems. Vice-president of the Romanian Doctors Union, Vasile Astarastoae, said: "Ciomu's case is a dangerous precedent for all Romanian doctors. In future doctors may have to think very carefully about what work they undertake.”

The director of the ophthalmology hospital in Bucharest, Dr. Monica Pop, agreed-- saying that doctors would in future avoid any cases where they could end up in court having to pay damages. She added: "Doctors in Romanian earn too little to be able to pay amounts like this. As a result it will be entirely fair if they only accept cases where they cannot make mistakes. The only way this can be avoided is if the insurance companies cover all the risk."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Grand Old Party

You Give Me Fever

Panic has gripped Kenya after 82 people have died in the past several weeks of Rift Valley Fever, with the disease spreading to densely populated areas. Medical officials say 148 people have died since the outbreak began in December. Infections have now been confirmed near the capital of Nairobi.

The fever is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes and consuming infected animal products. The last epidemic in Kenya was reported during the El Nino floods in 1998. An additional 380 people have been infected with the fever, said government spokesman Alfred Mutua. The government has tried to allay fears that the disease has spread to the capital after a death was reported at Kenyatta National Hospital. "The patient was admitted here last week from Kerugoya district hospital in central Kenya and was not from Nairobi," hospital director Jotham Micheni told reporters.

Many people having been shying away from eating or buying meat for fear of contracting the disease. Some butchers now display health certificates to show that their meat is not infected. The incubation period of the disease ranges from between two to six days and most patients die after developing haemorrhagic fever.

Note to readers: the Daily Dude, who left Kenya prior to Christmas, is now safely past the incubation period for the deadly disease.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Random Rant

Merry F***ing Christmas, Y'all

As the media sleeps on the job, the constitutional nightmare continues. Just before Christmas, “W” quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant. Bush asserted the new authority on December 20 after signing legislation that overhauls postal regulations. He then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open mail under certain conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to legal experts. The move, one year after the disclosure of a secret program that allowed warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mail, caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

"Despite the president's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into peo-ple's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D (CA), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill. "The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, di-rector of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington. "You have to be concerned," a senior U.S. official agreed. "It takes executive-branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane changes. But the legislation also explicitly reinforces protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval. Yet, in his signing statement, Bush said he will "construe" an exception " in exigent circumstances." Critics noted the administration could obtain a warrant quickly from a court or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge, and the Postal Service could block delivery.

The postal bill’s signing statement is the latest in an ongoing controversy concerning the extensive use of signing statements by George W. Bush to modify the meaning of laws. In July 2006, a task force of the American Bar Association described the use of signing statements to modify the meaning of duly enacted laws as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers".

Signing statements do not appear to have legal force by themselves. As a practical matter, they may give notice of the way that the Executive intends to implement a law, which does not make them any more significant than the law itself. They may also be included as part of legislative history in clarifying the intent of a law. Until the 1980s, with some exceptions, signing statements were generally triumphal, rhetorical, or political proclamations and went mostly unnoticed. Until Ronald Reagan became President, only 75 statements had ever been issued. Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton produced 247 signing statements among the three of them. By the end of 2006, G.W. Bush alone had issued over 135 signing statements challenging 810 federal laws.

The upswing in reliance on signing statements during the Reagan administration coincides with the writing by Samuel A. Alito-- then a staff attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel-- of a 1986 memorandum advocating the use of "interpretive signing statements" as a tool to "increase the power of the Executive to shape the law." In a recent commentary, the New York Times said, “None [prior to G.W. Bush] have used [signing statements] so clearly to make the president the interpreter of a law's intent, instead of Congress, and the arbiter of constitutionality, instead of the courts.”

G.W.’s signing statement accompanying the McCain bill prohibiting detainee torture attracted similar controversy. In that statement, G.W. said, “The Executive Branch shall construe the [torture ban] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority to supervise [the military] as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on judicial power.”

Concerned with the potential abuse of constitutional powers, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2006 last summer. The bill instructed all state and federal courts to ignore presidential signing statements, and directed the Supreme Court to allow the Congress to file suit in order to determine the constitutionality of signing statements. As with all unpassed bills, it expired with the end of the 109th United States Congress over the Christmas holidays.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Downsizing For Dollars

The parents of a 9-year-old girl convinced a Seattle hospital to perform a series of ‘mutiliating’ surgical procedures on their daughter to keep her compact-sized and make her long-term care more convenient for them. The procedure (dubbed the “Ashley Treatment” after the little girl’s name) has caused a public sensation after details became known last month, stirring controversy and debate over whether the procedure was ethical or justified to begin with.

Ashley was born healthy and normal, but around the age of 3 months, her brain stopped developing. She has static encephalopathy, a condition where the brain is abnormal and its deficiencies will neither improve nor decrease. In her case, she will never sit up, speak or walk. Her caregivers will always transport her, feed her through a tube and change her diapers. In early 2004, she started to grow pubic hair, develop breast buds and enter a growth spurt. Her parents feared that if she continued to grow she would become too large to care for without special assistance. The mother worried that Ashley would fear her monthly menstruations and suffer from cramps and breast tenderness. Her parents also felt that breasts would "sexualize" Ashley, inviting abuse and pregnancy if she were raped.

Ashley's parents requested the treatment to keep their daughter small and desexualized so they could continue to care for her at home and provide her with the "best possible quality of life." The hospital convened a secret 18-member panel to meet with Ashely’s parents and evaluate the case. The names of the panelists have been kept confidential and the hospital has claimed that it did not make a record of the group’s deliberations.

Several months after the meeting, surgeons at the hospital performed a hysterectomy and removed Ashley's breast buds. Shortly after surgery, they began a 30-month regimen of high-dose estrogen that would limit her adult height by prematurely fusing her bones' growth plates. Today, at age 9, Ashley is 4-foot-5 and weighs 65 pounds. Expected to have a normal life span, she will continue to age-- but she will remain short, never grow breasts, have a period or become pregnant.

After three years, details only came to light when the hospital’s doctors took credit for the procedure in a study published in a leading medical journal. After the article gained widespread attention, the hospital closed ranks--asking that no doctor, aside from Diekema and Daniel Gunther, the endocrinologist who performed the surgery, speak to the media.

Many doctors in the field have publicly called the disfiguring treatment appalling, and have questioned whether disapproval of medical personnel inside the hospital was more acute than has previously been known. "There were a number of people who were not very comfortable with the idea, and other people who weren't comfortable with it at all," said John McLaughlin, director of the neu-rodevelopmental program at the hospital. "In the end, the parents' assertive approach to wanting this done is what carried the day. However, most of us have major reservations about it. My bottom line is that this is one more example of well-intended, but poorly thought-through treatment of kids with disabilities."

Pediatricians outside the Seattle hospital are more pointed. "I think they crossed the line," said Gregory Liptak, an Upstate Medical University at Syracuse professor of pediatrics, who works with developmentally disabled children like Ashley. "What they did to this child takes away her personhood. She's a human being and with that comes all the same rights as you or I have to experience normal development and sexual pleasure." Other doctors say they are uncomfortable that the treatment served to compensate for a non-medical problem. Ashley wasn't sick or in pain, and the treatment "medicalizes" what is basically a care issue, said Dr. Mark Merkens, of Oregon Health & Science University. "This is pretty radical," he said. "Attenuating her growth is one thing, but to do a hysterectomy and breast-bud removal borders on mutilation."

Ashley’s parents, in what many see as an attempt to garner public sympathy, started a blog detailing their experiences. The parents, who refuse to identify themselves, call their daughter a "Pillow Angel" because she is "so sweet and stays right where we place her-- usually on a pillow." On the blog, the parents write, "Ashley has no need for her uterus since she will not have children. [She] has no need for breasts since she will not breast feed and their presence would only be a source of discomfort to her." Remaining child-size, they explained, would not only decrease the incidence of bed sores, but make it much easier to move Ashley around. As a result she "can continue to delight being held in our arms and will be taken on trips more frequently and will have more exposure to activities and social gatherings."

Already at least three other families have approached the hospital, asking them to create their own “Pillow Angels”, according to McLaughlin.

Based on reporting by Rebecca Clarren of

Greetings From The Daily Dude

"Where I seek myself, I find not myself; and I find myself more by chance than by the search of mine own judgment."

-- Michel de Montaigne, Essays


Related Posts with Thumbnails