Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Costa Rica: Cahuita National Forest

More Mumbai Massacre Mayhem

Disturbing photographs published by the Mumbai Mirror indicate that several of the guests at the Taj Mahal Hotel during the siege November 26 were sexually humiliated by the terrorists and then shot dead.

Police sources confirm that even as the terrorists were engaged in a fierce combat with NSG commandos, they were humiliating their hostages before ending their terrifying ordeal.

Foreign guests were their particular target. Eight of the 31 killed at the Taj were foreign nationals.

Photographs taken by a police forensic team after the hotel was sanitised yield a gruesome picture of some of the guests in the nude. These bodies were found away from the hotel's swimming pool which makes it clear that they were not those guests who were taken hostage from the poolside.

"Even the Rabbi and his wife at Nariman House were sexually assaulted and their genitalia mutilated," said a senior officer of the investigating team, not wishing to be quoted. “We have CCTV footage which reveals how these terrorists forced some of the guests who were holed up in restuarants to strip, but there is not evidence of rape,” he added.

Merry Christmas From Washington, DC

At a recent Redskins game, Santa is seen checking out who's naughty and who's nice.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Costa Rica: Cahuita

Bye, Bye Bush Bastard

A new CNN national poll suggests that three out of four Americans feel President Bush's departure from office is coming not a moment too soon.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Friday said they're glad Bush is going; 23 percent indicated they'll miss him....

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider added, "As President Bush prepares to leave office, the American public has a parting thought: Good riddance....

The portion who say they won't miss Bush is 24 percentage points higher than the 51 percent who said they wouldn't miss President Bill Clinton when he left office in January 2001. Forty-five percent of those questioned at that time said they would miss Clinton.

The poll indicates that Bush compares poorly with his presidential predecessors, with 28 percent saying that he's the worst ever. Forty percent rate Bush's presidency as poor, and 31 percent say he's been a good president.

Only a third of those polled said they want Bush to remain active in public life after he leaves the White House. That 33 percent figure is 22 points lower than those in 2001 who wanted Bill Clinton to retain a public role.

"It's been like a failed marriage," Schneider said.

Note from the Daily Dude: It's more like an annulment of a shot-gun marriage with an arrogant, cheating moron.

Merry Christmas From Germany

Where's Waldo/Santa over in Hamburg?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Costa Rica: San Jose

Erections Courtesy Of Uncle Sam

Are you still steamed about the Iraq intelligence failures? Well-- according to Wapo, the CIA is responsible for a whole new set of boners.

The story describes a meeting between a CIA officer and a local Afghan leader. The chieftan looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. The visiting CIA officer saw an opportunity and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country's roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency's operatives have used a variety of personal services. These include pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas, and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said.

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people -- whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra," said one longtime agency operative and veteran of several Afghanistan tours. Like other field officers interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity when describing tactics and operations that are largely classified.

Merry Christmas From Japan

It looks like something's a little fishy with Christmas over at the Tokyo Aquarium . . .

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jingo All The Way

A Republican in the running for the chairmanship of the RNC is apparently celebrating Christmas by making n*gger jokes. Chip Saltsman, a personal friend of conservative satirist Paul Shanklin, sent a 41-track CD along with a note to Republican National Committee members. “I look forward to working together in the New Year,” Saltsman wrote. “Please enjoy the enclosed CD by my friend Paul Shanklin of the Rush Limbaugh Show.”

The CD, called “We Hate the USA,” lampoons liberals with such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.” Several of the track titles, including “Barack the Magic Negro,” are written in bold font.

The song, which debuted on Limbaugh’s show in late March 2007, latches onto an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times of the same title. That column, penned by cultural critic David Ehrenstein, argued that Obama could serve as a balm to whites who felt guilty about past treatment of African Americans. The title is a reference to the "Magical Negro", an obsolete stock character in fiction who helps the white protagonist to get out of trouble. The lyrics of the songs are as follows:

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
‘Cause he’s not authentic like me.
Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper
Said he makes guilty whites feel good
They’ll vote for him, and not for me
‘Cause he’s not from the hood.

See, real black men, like Snoop Dog,
Or me, or Farrakhan
Have talked the talk, and walked the walk.
Not come in late and won!

Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
‘Cause he’s black, but not authentically.
Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
‘Cause he’s black, but not authentically.

Some say Barack’s “articulate”
And bright and new and “clean.”
The media sure loves this guy,
A white interloper’s dream!
But, when you vote for president,
Watch out, and don’t be fooled!
Don’t vote the Magic Negro in –

’Cause I won’t have nothing after all these years of sacrifice
And I won’t get justice. This is about justice. This isn’t about me, it’s about justice.
It’s about buffet. I don’t have no buffet and there won’t be any church contributions,
And there’ll be no cash in the collection plate.
There ain’t gonna be no cash money, no walkin’ around money, no phoning money.

Merry Christmas From The Funny Pages: Part 2

Giant Problem For Plaxico

Things aren't looking good for Plaxico Burress, the New York Giants wide receiver who accidentally shot himself at the Latin Quarter Midtown nightspot on November 29 after fumbling with an unlicensed handgun tucked in his waistband. His injuries ended his football season, and he was later suspended by the team. After that, the police served a search warrant at his house-- and during the search, the following items were found:

  • One 9mm handgun
  • A rifle
  • A "small cache" of ammo for .380, .45. and .40 caliber guns (the last is the caliber of the gun used to shoot himself)
  • A pair of blood-soaked jeans
  • A suitcase full of money

It's obvious that he doesn't watch Law and Order-- otherwise he wouldn't be carrying such legal (but nevertheless suspicious) items in his house while under police investigation.

Merry Christmas From Iraq

This soldier is pulling out all the big guns to make sure she gets what she wants for Christmas.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beware Of Bogus Balance Sheets

At a time when world leaders are criticizing the U.S. for its lack of financial oversight and transparency, international accounting experts are up to the same old shenanigans.

Largely hidden from public view, the International Accounting Standards Board recently changed the rules so European banks could make their balance sheets look better. The action let the banks rewrite history, picking and choosing among their problem investments to essentially claim that some had been on a different set of books before the financial crisis started.

The results were dramatic. Deutsche Bank shifted $32 billion of troubled assets, turning a $970 million quarterly pretax loss into $120 million profit. And the securities markets were fooled, bidding Deutsche Bank's shares up nearly 19 percent on Oct. 30, the day it made the startling announcement that it had turned an unexpected profit.

The change has had dramatic consequences within the cloistered world of accounting, shattering the credibility of the IASB -- the very body whose rules have been adopted by 113 countries and is supposed to become the global standard-setter, including for the United States, within a few years.

Merry Christmas From The Funny Pages: Part 1

Merry Christmas From Indonesia

Looks like business at the Jakarta Sea World is tanking, so they've resorted to some good old-fashioned holiday promotion.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas From Idaho

Doggone it-- to this little chihuahua, it seems that Santa has lost his head.

Duck, Bush, Duck!

Check out this very funny site-- you can choose your own object to throw at Bush. He's had a lot of practice ducking things the past eight years, so it won't be easy to hit him. My favorite objects to toss are torture devices, a brain, and english grammar.

Another Parting Kick In The Crotch From Bush

Immigration and civil liberties groups condemned a new U.S. government policy to collect DNA samples from all non-citizens detained by authorities and all people arrLinkested for federal crimes.

According to the WAPO article, the new Justice Department rule takes effect January 9, and dramatically expands a federal law enforcement database of genetic identifiers. Under that program, DNA sampling is limited to convicted criminals and arrestees from 13 states.

The change could add as many as 1.2 million people a year to the national database. Critics said the new rule raises constitutional and privacy concerns. Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty project, said the change "turns the presumption of innocence on its head."

Charles H. Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the U.S. rule "casts civilly detained immigrants as criminals, requiring them to submit to DNA testing even in cases where there is no suggestion of any criminal violation."

Bush forged ahead with the new rule, despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that a nearly-identical British policy to collect fingerprints and DNA of all criminal suspects (including those later deemed innocent) violated privacy rights.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas From Zimbabwe

A protester in Harare, dressed as Father Christmas and wearing a Robert Mugabe mask, gives out gifts of fear and torture for Christmas.

Celebrating Christmas With A Grim Tale

As a much-loved fairytale, a sumptuous new version of Hansel and Gretel might seem like perfect family viewing for Christmas Day.

But a new staging of the Brothers Grimm classic (featuring children's corpses hanging in a slaughterhouse storage room) has proved so terrifying that the Royal Opera House recommends it is not suitable for children under the age of eight. Which has left critics questioning why the BBC has chosen to screen the production at 3pm on Christmas Day-- a prime-time family viewing slot.

Media watchdogs and the children's charity Kidscape have called on BBC2 to pull the controversial opera from its Christmas schedule over fears it could traumatise children.

The two-hour fairytale features lust-crazed parents, a knife-wielding wicked witch who hangs children in her larder before baking them in a giant oven and a final scene of cannibalism in which children feast on her flesh. It has been marketed by the Royal Opera House as 'perfect family fare for everyone at holiday time'.

But opera critics have called it 'profoundly unpleasant' and said children in the audience on opening night were 'genuinely terrified'. Officials have now conceded the staging is unsuitable for younger children.

But a BBC2 spokeswoman insisted it would still be screened on Christmas Day, but said there would be a parental warning about the opera's content.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 11

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bush's Last Christmas: Who Haven't We Pissed Off Yet?

The president and the first lady invited leaders of America's Jewish community for a Hanukkah reception at the White House earlier this month-- but raised more than a few eyebrows by putting a picture of a Christmas tree on the invitation.

The message reads that the couple "requests the pleasure of your company at a Hanukkah reception," written beneath an image of a Clydesdale horse hauling a Christmas fir along the snow-dappled drive to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Christmas wreaths decorate each of the windows, as well.

"It's absolutely bizarre to receive an invite to the White House for Hanukkah in a Christmas format," said one person who was invited. "They should have consulted with their chief of protocol before sending this out."

Jewish community leader Isaac Abraham of Brooklyn had a simpler explanation. "It's obvious what's going on here: The Christmas tree is being taken out of the White House and the menorah is being brought in the back," he quipped.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 10

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More Christmas Crap

One of the world's most curious Christmas traditions can be found in Catalonia, where the idea of holiday cheer seems to involve some of life's more basic bodily functions.

A caganer -- or "pooper" -- is a small figurine of a person squatting down with lowered pants (or raised skirt) to answer nature's call. They have been around since the 17th century and can often be found hiding in an obscure corner of a Nativity scene. The figure pictured above is one depicting George W. Bush dropping a load.

Some say that the figurines originally became popular among farmers who believed -- quite practically -- that the caganer's "offerings" would make the soil rich and productive for the coming year. In somewhat vaguer terms, the Web site for the Association of Friends of the Caganer -- an organization founded in 1990 to celebrate the caganer tradition and which boasts 60 members spread across the world -- states that the figures were meant to add "a human side to the representation of the mystery of Christmas."

Other sources describe how the caganer might represent "the equality of all people" because "everyone defecates" or it may be meant to reinforce that "the infant Jesus is God in human form."

Young children in Catalonia still play a Where's-Waldo-like game that involves searching for the caganer in the Nativity scene arrangement. According to the Friends Web site, the caganer is "placed under a bridge, behind a haystack or otherwise discretely hidden" as it "would show a lack of respect" to have him near the arrangement's manger scene.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 9

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chestnuts Roasting Over An Open Fire

An Australian woman set fire to her husband's genitals while he slept, leaving him with burns to 85 percent of his body. 44-year-old Rajini Narayan was charged in an Adelaide court with arson, after the fire at her family's two-story home.

The fire left husband Satish Narayan with terrible burns that could eventually prove fatal.

According to the story, Mrs. Narayan applied methylated spirits to her husband's genitals as he slept then set fire to him. Mr. Narayan then knocked over the bottle of methylated spirits as he jumped up from the bed, sparking the major blaze.

Narayan and the couple's three children managed to escape the blaze and Mr Narayan was treated by an off-duty nurse before being rushed to the hospital.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 8

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bush Legacy: The Torture Presidency

Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine has a good column covering the release of the Levin-McCain report last week (on the use of torture by Bush). A quick excerpt:
This report sums up all you need to know about George W. Bush’s eight years of leadership. When photos and other evidence of abuse first surfaced, the Bush Administration [first] denied any connection between their policies and the abuse, then attempted to scapegoat a group of more than a dozen young recruits (but not, of course, any of their supervising officers, who knew the details of the administration’s involvement and would have made things messy if disciplined). The report puts these actions in an unforgiving light:

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.

But of course, Bush only turned to torture to keep America safe, right? Wrong. With the unanimous support of its 12 Republican members, the Committee concludes:

The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The Levin-McCain Report, when fully declassified and circulated, will tell Americans a good deal about our history. It will help define what will become known as the “torture presidency” of George W. Bush. But it is also a remarkably incomplete document, testimony to the Bush Administration’s conscious policy of obfuscation, misdirection and deceit—its mockery of Congressional oversight, and its corruption of our Constitution and system of government. It gives us a clear lesson. As John McCain stated: “This must never be repeated. Never.”

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 7

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hate Has Its Consequences

"I've almost had a nervous breakdown. It's been the worst thing that's ever happened to me," Margie Christoffersen sobbed as curious patrons at a Farmers Market coffee shop looked on, wondering what calamity had visited this poor woman who's an honest 6 feet tall, with hair as blond as the sun.

Well, Christoffersen was a manager at El Coyote, the Beverly Boulevard landmark restaurant that's always had throngs of customers waiting to get inside. Many of them were gay, and Christoffersen, a devout Mormon, donated $100 in support of Proposition 8, the successful November ballot initiative that banned gay marriage.

She never advertised her politics or religion in the restaurant, but last month her donation showed up on lists of "for" and "against" donors. And El Coyote became a target. A boycott was organized on the Internet, with activists trashing El Coyote on restaurant review sites. Then came throngs of protesters, some of them shouting "shame on you" at customers. The police arrived in riot gear one night to quell the angry mob.

The mob left, but so did the customers.

The LA Times article goes on and on at great length to pluck at the reader's heartstrings-- invoking the image of the restaurant's 92-year-old owner, telling us that Margie was only "raised Mormon by her father", detailing the unfortunate plight of the restaurant's 89 employees, etc.

I feel sorry that Margie has to go through this-- but bigotry is bigotry, quite frankly. And it doesn't matter where it comes from. Decades ago official Catholic policy was to oppose the marriage of black and white people-- but no one nowadays would dream of supporting a ban against interracial marriage. We Catholics were expected to grow beyond our outdated/bigoted beliefs or risk being marginalized in society.

People only modify their beliefs and/or actions by weighing the consequences of one alternative vs. another-- and the time has come where people can no longer expect to hide their hate/bigotry and think they can remain an accepted member of the community.

Rejected Obama Campaign Logos

Click here to see a few other logos considered by the Obama campaign.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 6

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Don't Know Who To Feel The Most Sorry For

An Iranian woman, blinded by a jilted stalker who threw acid in her face (see this post for another recent incident in Afghanistan), has persuaded a court to sentence him to be blinded with acid himself under Islamic law demanding an eye for an eye.

Ameneh Bahrami refused to accept "blood money." She insisted instead that her attacker suffer a fate similar to her own "so people like him would realize they do not have the right to throw acid in girls' faces," she told the Tehran Provincial Court.

She did not ask for his face to be disfigured, as hers was. "Of course, only blind him and take his eyes, because I cannot behave the way he did and ask for acid to be thrown in his face," Bahrami said. "Because that would be [a] savage, barbaric act. Only take away his sight so that his eyes will become like mine. I am not saying this from a selfish motive. This is what society demands."

Iran and Saudi Arabia are the only countries that consider eye-gouging to be a legitimate judicial punishment, Human Rights Watch has said.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 5

Thursday, December 18, 2008

They Doth Protest Too Much

Police thwarted a banned anti-Kremlin protest in central Moscow last weekend, seizing dozens of demonstrators and shoving them into trucks.

According to reports, somewhere between 90 and 130 people were detained around the capital. The opposition movement (headed by fierce Kremlin critic and former chess champion Garry Kasparov) said the co-leader of the group was one of those seized.

The Other Russia movement organized the protest, in defiance of a ban, to draw attention to Russia's economic troubles and to protest Kremlin plans to extend the presidential term from four years to six. Critics say the constitutional change is a further retreat from democracy and is aimed only at strengthening the grip of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

As expected, news broadcasts on the main television networks (all essentially state-controlled) made no mention of the Moscow crackdown or of protests in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.

Before the scheduled start of the protests, hundreds of officers guarded Triumph Square, which was ringed by police trucks and metal barriers. Police roughly grabbed protesters who tried to enter the square, dragging at least 25 people into waiting trucks.

Police also seized Other Russia co-leader Eduard Limonov along with a handful of bodyguards as they walked toward the square. They were bundled into police vehicles.

Lyudmila Morozova, 61, a nurse from the southern city of Voronezh, had planned to protest in Triumph Square but was put off by the massive police presence. She said the police actions showed that the government was afraid "some kind of power will rise against them."

"I want my country to develop along a democratic path," said Morozova, standing against a wall at the edge of the square. "It's not only not democratic, it's becoming totalitarian."

"And Now . . . The End Is Near"

A Malaysian man has been stabbed to death for refusing to stop singing and hand over the microphone at a karaoke bar, as reported by the BBC.

Abdul Sani Doli, 23, reportedly angered some of the customers when he hogged the stage at the bar in Sandakan town on eastern Borneo island. Witnesses said he was attacked, and the fight spilled out on to the street. He was punched before being stabbed to death with a knife. His body was found a short distance from the bar.

According to the Guardian’s Ian MacKinnon, Karaoke rage is not unheard of in Asia. There have been several reported cases of singers being assaulted, shot or stabbed mid-performance, usually over how songs are sung. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” has reportedly generated so many outbursts of hostility that some bars in the Philippines now do not offer it on the karaoke menu anymore. In Thailand this year, a gunman shot eight people dead after tiring of their endless renditions of a John Denver tune "Country Roads".

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 4

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Legalized Malpractice?

This one almost sneaked by me-- another farewell kick in the ass by Bush.

The outgoing Bush administration is planning to announce a broad new "right of conscience" rule permitting medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control.

For more than 30 years, federal law has dictated that doctors and nurses may refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion.

It also seeks to cover more employees. For example, in addition to a surgeon and a nurse in an operating room, the rule would extend to "an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments," the draft rule said.

Critics of the rule say it will sacrifice patients' health to the religious beliefs of providers. "It's unconscionable that the Bush administration, while promising a smooth transition, would take a final opportunity to politicize women's health," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

Despite the controversy, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said he intends to issue the rule as a final regulation before the Obama administration takes office, to protect the moral conscience of persons in the health care industry.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 3

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bush Finally Breaks Down And Admits What Everyone Already Knew

In one of his "legacy-shaping" interviews in the final days of his presidency, Bush finally admitted that al-Queda never operated out of Iraq until after the U.S. invaded and provoked them into it. And then, in a stunning display of willful indifference, said that he didn't care one way or the other anyway:
Bush: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take ...

Raddatz: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

Bush: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand. And they're becoming defeated and I think history will say, one, the world was better off without Saddam, two, along with the Iraqi troops we have denied al Qaeda a safe haven because a young democracy is beginning to grow, which will be an important sign for people in the Middle East.

Raddatz: Just let me go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9/11 world. They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.

Bush: That's true. Everybody thought they had them.

Raddatz: So what threat?

Bush: Saddam Hussein was the sworn enemy of the United States. He had been enriched by oil revenues. He was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed like some said that he -- you know, oh, that he was directly involved with the attacks on 9/11, but he did support terrorists. And, uh, Saddam Hussein had the capability making weapons of mass destruction.

See the full interview here.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 2

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cheney Unleashed

The Guantanamo detention center should remain open indefinitely, Vice President Cheney said Monday, while also defending the harsh interrogation method known as waterboarding.

Cheney was asked when the detention camp at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba can be "responsibly" be shut down. "Well, I think that that would come with the end of the war on terror," he told ABC in an interview.

And when is that? "Well, nobody knows," Cheney said. "Nobody can specify that."

So-- now that Darth Cheney is being shown the door, let's get a few things straight:

1. There is no "War" on terror. Use of the term "war" is a piece of bullshit semantics the Bush came up with to legally justify violating constitutional rights. We may struggle against terrorism for a long time, but we are not at war. To be quite honest, having forced us to surrender our constitutional privileges ranks as a "win" for the terrorists . . .

2. Cheney is one of a quickly dwindling handful that thinks Guantanamo should stay open. It is a shameful mark on our history, and it will be shut down soon.

3. Waterboarding is illegal, has always been illegal, and will also end soon.

Dude out.

First It Was Human Rights, Now It's Humans That Are Missing

A prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist abducted 12 days ago was working on case files to be used as possible prosecution evidence against members of President Robert Mugabe's regime, according to reports.

Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), is the most prominent among 20 political and civil society activists who have disappeared in the past six weeks.

According to fellow campaigners, Mukoko had established a network of hundreds of monitors - mostly church people, teachers and ordinary township dwellers - who had provided handwritten testimonies of the campaigns of brutality carried out by Mugabe's government. The testimony could have been used in any future investigation of human rights abuses by the Mugabe regime. 'She had catalogued thousands of incidents of murder, assault, torture, arson, and who the perpetrators are. The work was so meticulous it could stand up in any court,' said one associate.

Lawyers and opposition politicians believe the abduction of Mukoko was carried out as part of a new campaign by elements in the ruling party to intimidate and hinder the work of those gathering incriminating evidence of human rights violations in the country. Most leading human rights figures have in recent days gone into hiding. The ZPP has closed and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (Nango) has warned that 'there are reasons to fear for the safety of every activist in the land'.

Happy Poisonous Christmas

One in three toys tested was found to contain toxic chemicals such as lead, flame retardants and arsenic, according to a report by an environmental group.

Researchers for the Michigan-based Ecology Center tested more than 1,500 popular toys for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC and other harmful chemicals. They said they found that one-third of the toys contain "medium" or "high" levels of chemicals of concern.

Researchers bought the toys at chain stores including Target, Kmart, Toys R Us, Babies R Us, TJ Maxx, and Wal-Mart, as well as drug stores, dollar stores, on-line retailers and independent toy stores.

The study does not associate country of origin with the presence of toxic chemicals. According to the release, 21% of toys from China and 16% of toys from all other countries had detectable levels of lead. Of the 17 toys made in the United States that were tested, 35% had detectable levels of lead.

Christmas Cards For Geeks: Part 1

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Modern Love?

Recently, The Daily Beast published a confessional from a young woman whose life is financed by an older man. The woman, who uses the name "Melissa Beech", is a college senior in Philadelphia majoring in journalism and economics, and was recently hired as an intern at a public relations firm specializing in crisis communications and media relations.

In her blog entry, Melissa explained how, after applying for an internship at his company, this man offered to become her benefactor if she would be his girlfriend. So the two worked out an agreement, and have now been dating for a year. He pays her rent, the bill on the limit-free credit card he gave her, and takes her on lavish vacations (see picture above).

The response to the piece was far more critical than expected, with the comments quickly overflowing with righteous indignation. According to Melissa, the common misconception was that her "sugar daddy" was in the relationship purely for sex, and that she was in it just for the money. In this new blog entry, Melissa asks her boyfriend to answer some questions on the record to clear up any misconceptions. Interesting and controversial, for sure.

Is Palin Valuable To The Republicans?

Colin Powell was on CNN this week:
CNN Anchor REED ZAKARIA: What do you think is going to happen to the Republican Party? You sounded concerned then, and you always have been concerned about certain aspects of your party. Do you think it's moving in the right direction?

POWELL: We don't know yet. I don't know yet.

I think that in the latter months of the campaign, the party moved further to the right. Governor Palin, to some extent, pushed the party more to the right. And I think she had something of a polarizing effect when she talked about small-town values are good.

Well, most of us don't live in small towns. And I was raised in the South Bronx, and there's nothing wrong with my value system from the South Bronx.

See the clip on Crooks and Liars.

'Tis The Season for Dismemberment, Suicide and Cannibalism

Accused killer Sydney Teerhuis claims he was fascinated with death and carefully plotted out his own demise in a bizarre arrangement with a Vancouver man.

Teerhuis is on trial for having sex with a man and then killing him, stabbing him 68 times, cutting his body into eight pieces, and removed all his organs. The two men were strangers, having met earlier in a bar.

Jurors in Teerhuis' trial also heard testimony of how he agreed to be murdered and cannibalized while living out west in 2001. In that incident, Teerhuis claims he and a friend went and purchased a massive pressure cooker, a large amount of sleeping pills and even selected a specific date.

"I told him the only way I'd do it is if he kept all my bones in a trunk under his bed," 39-year-old Teerhuis wrote in his journal. Teerhuis said the plan fell through when the man abruptly changed his mind and returned to his native India.

"I still think about him every now and then and hope someday I will run into him so he can cook me," Teerhuis wrote. He said he later ran the idea by a former roommate of his who was living in Edmonton but it never materialized. "I will wait to find the right man or men who'd be willing to have me on their dinner table," Teerhuis added.

Read the full story for more gruesome details.

Obama's Tortured History

Here's an interesting tidbit I haven't seen reported over here in the States-- Obama's Kenyan relatives are now saying that Barack’s paternal grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama was part of the Kenyan independence movement when he was arrested in 1949 and jailed for two years. The unusual angle is that they allege he was tortured by his British guards to extract information about the insurgency.

“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, told reporters. According to her, the British soldiers would sometimes squeeze his testicles with parallel metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,” she told the paper.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holy Mother Of Fuck-Ups

A nude model resembling the Virgin Mary on the cover of the Mexican edition of Playboy magazine, published only days before a major Mexican festival dedicated to the mother of Jesus, prompted the company's U.S. headquarters to apologize.

The magazine, which hit newsstands as ceremonies began leading to Friday's pilgrimage to the Mexico City shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, showed a model wearing nothing but a white cloth over her head and breasts.

She is standing in front of a stained glass window with the cover line, "We Love You, Maria" in Spanish. The model's name is Maria Florencia Onori.

Raul Sayrols, publisher of Playboy Mexico, said in a statement, "The image is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure. The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover."

Bailing Out On Bailouts

Regardless of where you stand on bailing out large corporations to save the economy (I'm a bit conflicted myself, and the TV doesn't have much objective analysis on the subject)-- but it does seem a bit hypocritical to vote for Wall St.'s $700 billion and then vote against $14 billion to save auto companies/jobs. Here's the list of senators who fall into that category:

Bob Bennett, R-UT
Richard Burr, R-NC
Saxby Chambliss, R-GA
Tom Coburn, R-OK
Norm Coleman, R-MN
Bob Corker, R-TN
John Ensign, R-NV
Chuck Grassley, R-IA
Judd Gregg, R-NH
Orrin Hatch, R-UT
Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX
Johnny Isakson, R-GA
John Kyl, R-AZ
Mel Martinez, R-FL
John McCain, R-AZ
Mitch McConnell, R-KY
Lisa Murkowski, R-AK
John Thune, R-SD

Friday, December 12, 2008

No Room At The (Blair) Inn

The Obama family has been denied a request to move in early to the Blair House –- the traditional temporary housing of President-elects in Washington, DC. By tradition the Blair House is the President’s guest house for visiting dignitaries and is reserved for the President-elect’s use starting on Jan. 15.

According to sources, the Obama transition team "explored the idea" of moving Obama and his family to the nation's capital earlier than normal to accommodate the January 5 starting day of school Obama's daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

The White House conveyed to the Obama team that due to previously scheduled guests that couldn’t be displaced from the Blair House, they could not meet their request for an early move-in. A White House spokesman later contradicted that, saying that the Bushes have no family or friends staying at the Blair house during January

Blair House officials also confirmed that there are no foreign dignitaries scheduled to stay at the Blair House for the duration of the Bush administration.

Regardless of whether there are planned guests or events however, the Blair House says that they are ready for the Obamas whenever they choose to come.

The reason for that is that the president-elect's residential quarters within the Blair house are a separate area, and are purposely designed to provide complete separation from the rest of the house.

Facts and circumstances notwithstanding, the White House held firm and refused to negotiate an earlier move-in for the President-elect. So much for George W. being a Christian.

KGB Stands For "Kenya Goes Bolshevik"?

The Kenyan government has defended a contentious media bill which critics say is intended to gag the press. The Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, which was passed by parliament, gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content.

The new bill gives the minister for internal security the power to raid a media house, search its premises, dismantle broadcast equipment and take a station off air. Media Council of Kenya chairman Wachira Waruru says that the new bill aims to kill the recently acquired press freedom.

Kenya's press has feared for its independence since a 2006 raid on a TV station and newspaper offices. In that incident, the Standard and its sister TV station KTN were accused of inciting ethnic hatred. Those raids (by armed and masked police officers) followed a series of exposes about government corruption.

In May 2007, parliament passed a media bill that sanctioned tighter media controls and would have compelled journalists to reveal their sources. Hundreds of journalists held a protest with their mouths symbolically shut with sticky tape, and the bill was later rejected by President Mwai Kibaki.

See the BBC story for more details.

Energizing The Obama Cabinet

According to sources, President-elect Barack Obama is expected to nominate Nobel-laureate physicist Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a renowned expert on alternative fuels and climate change, as the nation's energy secretary.

"The Chu pick is exciting because (he) will bring scientific rigor to the new administration's energy policy," said Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. "After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society."

I'm sure that last remark is going to leave a red mark on Bush's ass. Serves him right.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

British TV Makes A Killing In The Ratings

Britain's obsession with reality television reached new heights-- or a new low-- on Wednesday night when Sky TV broadcast the assisted suicide a 59-year-old terminally ill American at a Swiss clinic. Near the end of the documentary, Craig Ewert, a former computer scientist from Chicago, is shown lying in bed with his wife at his side; after he takes barbiturates, he uses his teeth to turn off his ventilator — and dies on camera.

Showing the final moment of death had long been a final taboo, even for no-holds-barred British TV, where sex and violence are common, and the broadcast unleashed debate on an issue that strongly divides public opinion.

Photographs of Ewert's final moments dominated Britain's newspaper front pages Wednesday — "SUICIDE TV" screamed one tabloid — and prompted a debate in Parliament, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quizzed about the propriety of the decision to air the program.

In the film, Ewert says he wanted to take action before the disease, which destroys cells that control essential muscle activity such as speaking, walking, breathing and swallowing, left him completely incapacitated.

The documentary shows Ewert and his wife going about their daily routine: Mary cleans her husband's teeth, bathes, shaves and feeds him as he bows his head.

Speaking in a reedy voice and breathing deeply from plastic tubes attached to his nose, Ewert said he felt like "empty shell." He said some people might say: "No, suicide is wrong, God has forbidden it. Fine, but you know what? This ventilator is God."

Before the pair leave for Switzerland, he is wheeled through a local park. "I see the plants, and they're dying, and I'm dying too," he muses. "They'll be coming back next spring — I'm unlikely to. I think I can take my bow, and say: Thanks, it's been fun."

In an emotional message to his adult son and daughter, who appear in the program, Ewert asked for understanding. "I would hope that this is not a cause of major distress to those who love me," he said, using a voice-activated computer to speak. "This is a journey I must make."

At the same time, he acknowledged, "My dear sweet wife will have the greatest loss, as we have been together for 37 years in the greatest intimacy."

The program shows Ewert being interviewed by Dr. Hans-Jurg Schweizer in Zurich, Switzerland. Schweizer, who is responsible for filling out the lethal prescriptions, gives his approval and wishes him a "happy journey."

Later, Ewert is set up on a small yellow bed in a nondescript room; as the technicians get ready, his wife says her goodbyes. "Have a safe journey," she says, tearing up. "See you sometime."

Ewert chokes down the lethal cocktail, slurping apple juice through a pink straw to blot out the taste as the ninth movement of Beethoven's symphony plays in the background. His wife holds his hand as he begins dying.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Capitalism Won't Die Easily In Venezuela

Desperation to get the U.S. dollar no matter the cost has apparently exhausted the number of airline tickets to neighboring destinations where Venezuelans can get hold of the fiercely desired greenbacks.

There is almost no seat available on flights to Curacao, Aruba, or Panama-- and tickets to Miami have become extremely expensive, according to the manager of one of the biggest travel agencies in Venezuela. "It is not about small change. This [entire] enterprise circumvents the exchange brokers' control that has existed since 2003, by getting the dollar for 2.15 Bolivars each-- the official exchange rate since 2005-- and then selling the dollars for much more than double that amount in the non-regulated [market]."

These "dollar tourists" make a beeline to the ATM as soon as they arrive in Miami, or turn to "helpful" store owners who write ghost invoices to justify dollar purchases with credit cards to the Venezuelan authorities. At the moment, Venezuelan citizens are allowed to spend a maximum of $5,000 on foreign trips if they have a credit card. Up to that maximum, Venezuelans can spend $500 on a monthly basis in foreign countries. In addition to that, up to $400 can be spent on electronics abroad. On top of all that, Venezuelan citizens who travel abroad may purchase $600 in cash locally at their bank per year for trips that last one week or longer.

Being faced with all these restrictions, individuals and companies have used all sorts of tricks to get around the socialist dollar policies of Hugo Chavez. Venezuelans have even taken to purchasing apartments locally in Curacao for accommodation of fellow countrymen that come to max out their credit cards. They even arrange transportation to stores where for 13-14% commission, Venezuelans can swipe their cards as many times as needed to reach the allowed maximum. Even after deducting all their expenses, people can make a profit if they sell the acquired dollars on the black market in Venezuela.

There is now fear that the Chavez government will lower the quotas even further in an effort to restrict the dollar tourism, since an economic exchange crisis is now a possibility with the recent plunge of oil prices. Tightening controls on internet purchases and sending one's credit card with a traveling family members is also being considering for further restriction.

Even "chavistas" themselves are indulging in dollar tourism, as a way to combat inflation and economic tightness. "These dollars are not the government's, but the country's and mine, and I'm allowed to do what I want with them," claims a government official who claims to be a supporter of Chavez and his socialist policies.

Bad Blood

Failed yet another job interview? Unable to meet the right man or woman? Don't blame your parents. Or society. In Japan, many believe that the source of your suffering is your blood type.

The idea that blood type defines our personality, temperament and ability to mingle is routinely dismissed as nonsense, but that has not stopped four books on the subject from occupying Japan's top 10 bestseller list for the past year. Mainly bought by twenty- and thirty-something women, the books reflect Japan's obsession with blood typology.

Blood types are cited as a factor in any thing from a colleague's quick temper to an inability to secure a coveted job or the affections of a prospective lover. Daytime TV shows offer "blood horoscopes", while on sale are all manner of items supposedly tailored to each of the four blood groups, anything from chewing gum to condoms to bath salts - a relaxing, blue concoction for the sensitive type A. Companies have been known to appoint employees to jobs based on their blood type, while dating agencies rank this genetic nugget alongside education and salary in recommending a male suitor.

Blood type-mania has a darker side. It has been blamed for bullying among kindergarten children, denying jobs to otherwise ideal candidates and ending happy relationships, all because of an imagined blood-type mismatch.

About 90% of Japanese know their blood type, often before they know how to tie their shoelaces. About 40% are type A, 30% are O, 20% are B and 10% are AB.

Some experts explain blood typology's central place in the Japanese psyche by pointing to the rough similarity between the distribution of blood types and social classes in feudal Japan: the strong-willed samurai (O) and mild-mannered farmers (A), and smaller numbers of sensitive artisans (AB) and earthy tradesmen (B).

  • Type A: Reserved and prone to worry, sensitive perfectionists such as Britney Spears and Adolf Hitler.
  • Type O: Decisive, self-confident, curious, and ideal for sport, including Elvis Presley and the Queen.
  • Type B: Cheerful caring, flamboyant free-thinkers such as Jack Nicholson.
  • Type AB: High-maintenance, distant, suited to arts, such as Mao Zedong.

Tatsuya Sato, an associate professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, dismissed the blood type-as-personality theory as superstition. "Even though psychologists and scientists have denied the relationship between blood type and personality, many Japanese are still naive about the connection," he said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's Camille Time Again

Camille's latest column was posted on Slate a day early-- some choice excerpts:

As for Obama's appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, what sense does that make except within parochial Democratic politics? Awarding such a prize plum to Hillary may be a sop to her aggrieved fan base, but what exactly are her credentials for that position? Aside from being a mediocre senator (who, contrary to press reports, did very little for upstate New York), Hillary has a poor track record as both a negotiator and a manager. And of course both Clintons constantly view the world through the milky lens of their own self-interest. Well, it's time for Hillary to put up or shut up. If she gets as little traction in world affairs as Condoleezza Rice has, Hillary will be flushed down the rabbit hole with her feckless husband and effectively neutralized as a future presidential contender. If that's Obama's clever plan, is it worth the gamble? The secretary of state should be a more reserved, unflappable character -- not a drama queen who, even in her acceptance speech, morphed into three different personalities in the space of five minutes.

. . .

Meanwhile, an area where too many in the mainstream media have been oddly AWOL is in the response to the attack on Mumbai, India, two weeks ago by a squad of Pakistan-based terrorists, who killed nearly 200 people. Reaction in the U.S. was somewhat muted because the protracted standoff occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday, when many Americans were traveling or absorbed in family business. But I was troubled by a persistent soft-pedaling of the identification of the attackers as Muslims --as if the mere reporting of that fact would be offensive and politically incorrect.

The tragic fate of so many innocent victims in Mumbai deserves our pity. But what should live in special infamy was the ruthless execution of the Lubavitcher rabbi, Gavriel Hertzberg, and his lovely wife, Rivka, who was 5 months pregnant. These were two idealistic young people of obvious warmth and humanity, who sought only to serve. The rescue by their Indian nanny of their orphaned 2-year-old son, Moshe, crying and smeared with his parents' blood, is already legendary. Was this zeroing in on the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai about Israel, or was it simply a gruesome eruption of the medieval tradition of anti-Semitism? Why have Muslim organizations, very quick to protest insulting cartoons, been mostly silent about the atrocities in Mumbai?

. . .

I've often complained about my childhood oppression by saccharine Christmas carols, which were forced on us at school and in Girl Scouts. So I was delighted to find this anti-carol on Nickelodeon, the children's cartoon network. The ominous scenario ("Brave New World" meets "Metropolis") wonderfully expresses the commercialized fascism of this hectic season. All year long, these hypnotic lyrics have become a standard chant at my house: "Bow down, bow down, before the power of Santa -- or be crushed, be crushed by his jolly boots of doom!" What gifted team created this witty fantasia? Congratulations for popular art at its best!

Monday, December 8, 2008

St. Kitts: Cows On Cockleshell Beach

Disarming Arrest In China

Chinese police got a surprise when they pulled over a brand new 4x4 for a routine check - the driver had no arms. Zing Shen, 42, was steering the vehicle with his feet and was amazed when officers decided issue him with a public safety summons.

He told the traffic officers he had been driving like that for years after losing both arms below the elbows in an industrial accident.

A police spokesman in Beijing said: "The man said that he was a very safe driver and felt he was as good as anyone else on the road, despite his disability. He had an automatic so did not need to worry about changing gears and said he had put a lot of practice into learning to control the steering wheel with his legs. He said he was actually even more careful now with driving than he had been before he lost his arms. He was surprised when we arrested him."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nevis: Trekking to the Double Deuce Beach Bar

What Do They Say in the Christian Bible? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth . . . .?

A court in Iran has ruled that a man who blinded a woman with acid after she spurned his marriage proposals will also be blinded with acid.

The punishment is legal under the Islamic Sharia code of qias or equivalence, which allows retribution for violent crimes.

Bobbitized By Bangalore Bitch

When Mir Arshad Ali, 33, jilted his lover of nine years and married another woman, he did not think it would cost him more than his happiness. What he didn't suspect is that she would lure him in and "bobbitize" him.

Ali and 30-year-old Sayeeda Amina were neighbors for a number of years, and during that time, enjoyed an on-again/off-again relationship. At some point, Ali decided to break it off, and married a journalist from Mumbai.

Amina, meanwhile, moved in with her mother and opened a dental clinic. She called Ali for a chat last Saturday, and the unsuspecting man came to her clinic.

Amina is believed to have given him some spiked juice, which caused him to lose consciousness. According to the police, Ali was still in a sub-conscious state when a seething Amina cut off his genitals.

Later, when Ali recovered consciousness, he reportedly asked Amina to take him to hospital. She took him to the hospital and gave his cell phone and laptop to the hospital staff. The police said that Amina and her mother are now on the run.

Ali's doctors refused to comment on his condition, but said that he is out of danger.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. Kitts: Brimstone Hill Fortress

At Christmas, The Embryo Gotta Go

With the deteriorating economy, gift certificates have become a popular holiday gift option, but a controversial one in Indiana, however.

For the first time, Planned Parenthood in Indiana is offering gift certificates. The organization said a big increase in calls and visits from newly unemployed and uninsured Hoosiers prompted what it calls the unusual, yet practical gift option.

However, reporters at Hoosiers 24-Hour News 8 asked if the gift certificates could be used towards abortions. The answer was yes-- but, Planned Parenthood said that's not the purpose of the gift certificates. Struben-Hall said, "They really are intended for preventative healthcare. We decided not to put restrictions on the gift certificates so it's for whatever people feel they need the services for most."

Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith said he is appalled by the certificates.

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Kitts: Timothy Beach

"DNA" Is For "Do Not Attack" My Rights

In a stunning decision, the EU court has ruled unanimously that the orwellian DNA database maintained by Britain is a violation of basic human rights. Critics are calling on the British government to immediately begin deleting the records of innocent people whose genetic fingerprints are being held in violation of their rights.

In their ruling, the judges said keeping the information "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".

Under present laws, the DNA profiles of everyone arrested for a recordable offense in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are kept on the database, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted. The details of about 4.5 million people are held and one in five of them does not have a current criminal record.

The court found that the taking of DNA from those not convicted of a crime was in violation of the right to respect for private and family life-- a key element in the European Convention on Human Rights. It also said it was "struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention in England and Wales".

The judges ruled the retention of the men's DNA "failed to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests," and that the UK government "had overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard".

The court also ruled "the retention in question constituted a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".

The Prick Has No Dignity

A French appeals court says Voodoo dolls of President Nicolas Sarkozy may remain on sale, but must carry a notice saying that pricking them harms the president's dignity.

Sarkozy's attorney had asked that the dolls be withdrawn from sale, saying the president like any French person owns the right to his own image. The appeals court backed an earlier ruling allowing the dolls to stay on the market in the name of freedom of expression.

But it ordered the doll's marketer to add a warning that using the needles which come with the kits "constitutes an attack on the personal dignity of Mr. Sarkozy." The Nicolas Sarkozy voodoo doll and manual costs $16.50 and includes a handbook and 12 pins.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bushies Trying To "Spin" History

Caught this item on it seems that Karl Rove is heading up the "Bush Legacy Project" in the waning days at the White House to try and put spin on Bush's presidency before the historians weigh in. It's such a daunting task, that Karen Hughes has been brought in to help with the heavy lifting.

I'm sorry to tell you all that Bush's legacy is already written in stone, and no amount of bullshit is going to help improve it. The only thing left to do is come up with a clever title for the Bush legacy-- like this personal favorite (courtesy of a thinkprogress commenter): "How to Destroy the World Economy and murder millions in eight short years"

Let's take a quick tour of the Bush presidency:

2000: Bush loses popular vote, but his lawyers win the presidency at the Supreme Court

2001: Bush tax cuts, setting the stage for record-setting deficits; Patriot Act is signed, setting the stage for unprecedented constitutional violations; Invasion of Afghanistan; warrantless wiretapping/spying on Americans begin

2002: No Child Left Behind; Homeland Security Act; DOJ secretly authorizes torture; "Gitmo Gulag" opens in Guantanamo

2003: Invasion of Iraq based on phony intelligence; Medicare Prescription Drug benefit; beginning of extraordinary renditioning by CIA; Bush authorizes Scooter Libby to leak Valerie Plame's identity

2004: Alaska's North Slope opened to drilling, threatening the Arctic National Wildlife refuge; Insurgency in Iraq takes hold

2005: Central America Free Trade Act; Bankruptcy is "reformed", making it more difficult for folks to declare bankruptcy; Hurricane Katrina debacle

2006: U.S. Troop deaths in Iraq climb to record levels; Patriot Act renewed; Bush vetoes stem cell research; GOP loses control of both houses of Congress; politically-motivated firings of seven U.S. attorneys

2007: Immigration Reform fails; beginning of subprime mortgage crisis; the "Surge" in Iraq

2008: Beginning of the Bush recession; vetoed increased funding for intelligence efforts because it had a provision outlawing torture; Bush's approval rating hits an all-time low (worse even than Nixon's)

Sex On The Brain? (Part 3)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Harare Horror

How long can Mugabe tighten his death grip on his country? How much more disastrous can this get? First, Mugabe destroyed his country's agriculture-- then he presided over the demise of the economy, ushering in crippling inflation. And all along the way he oppressed his own people's basic freedoms and human rights.

But yet the situation wasn't horrendous enough to convince a sufficient number of Zimbabweans to vote Mugabe out, resulting in the current political stalemate. And now a cholera outbreak is sweeping across the country.

State hospitals and clinics have been shut across the country and the lack of money to buy water treatment chemicals means many major urban centers have not had clean water for over a year. Because of the breakdown in the water system, residents are having to drink from contaminated wells and streams.

"There is a general sense that everything is beginning to break down," said a senior Western diplomat, who described the situation in Zimbabwe as "low-grade anarchy" rather than a "mutiny".

In a clear sign that President Mugabe's hold on his state security machinery is starting to crumble, his once-loyal soldiers ran amok across the capital on Monday after they failed to access their paltry wages in the cash-strapped banks. The unarmed soldiers fought with heavily-armed police and several were arrested.

It was the third outbreak of such violence since last Thursday. The sight of rampaging soldiers was then unprecedented. Army sources said an inquiry had already begun, with dozens facing courts martial. Unconfirmed reports say three of the 12 soldiers who took part in Thursday's riot have been killed.

Sex On The Brain? (Part 1)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bush-Style Success In Iraq

Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent 'honor killings' in the city following a 70 per cent increase in religious murders during the past year.

There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted.

During 2007 the Basra security committee recorded 47 'honor killings' and three convictions. One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as $100.

The figures come despite international outrage over the death of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, who was murdered by her father last April in an 'honor killing' after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra.

Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was subsequently arrested and released without charge.

Rand's mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. According to her husband, police had congratulated him for killing his daughter.

An Iraqi lawyer, who requested anonymity, said that some fathers had started to hire professional hitmen to carry out 'honor killings'. He said: 'The life of these women isn't higher than $100. You can find a killer standing in any coffee shop of Basra, discussing prices of a life as if he was buying a piece of meat.'

Mariam Ayub Sattar, an activist in Basra, said that any woman caught speaking to a man in public who was not her husband or a relative was considered a prostitute and punished. A fortnight ago three women were burned with acid while walking through a market in Basra after stopping to speak to a male friend, Sattar said.

Nine of the 12 voluntary organizations helping women in Basra have closed down since the US-led invasion, due to threats of violence. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights said that it was working on new projects to end gender discrimination in the country. 'We try to make a difference by teaching students at schools about gender equality, but it only will be possible when parents don't teach the opposite at home,' said Hameed Walled, senior official in the Ministry of Human Rights.

Dan Savage's Call To Arms

I have to say that I agree with Dan Savage on this one. Whether or not gay people can marry has absolutely no effect on whether Mormons are able to freely practice their religion-- and if an individual makes a public donation to a political campaign, that individual should be prepared to deal with any and all consequences. And the Mormon church certainly crossed the line between church and state when they contributed money and resources to a public campaign to strip a minority group of their civil rights.

One of the commentators on Dan Savage's post quoted the following "privately held religious belief" from Mark E. Peterson-- one of the 12 Mormon apostles, speaking at BYU in 1954:

"I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the negro seeks absorbtion with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feeling to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, 'First we pity, then endure, then embrace.'..."
Hmmmm . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stories of Survival And Tragedy From Mumbai

By now, you've read and seen a lot of coverage on the Mumbai Massacre. As a world traveler, what affects me the most are the personal stories of the victims interspersed among the more sensational reporting of the planning and execution of the attacks by the 10 well-trained terrorists. Here's a selection of stories I've come across:

From the New York Times:

36-year-old Australian lawyer James Benson left his 27th floor room at 10:15 pm on Wednesday night and was headed down the stairs of the Oberoi hotel when he ran into a bunch of people running back up. An Indian man named Ravi said that there had been a terrorist attack and that there was a lot of blood on the 14th floor. As they climbed back up the stairs, two large blasts rattled windows in the hotel. A Canadian IT specialist named Sebastian Gonzalez, reacting to the blasts, ran into the stairwell and bumped into Benson and Ravi on the way up. Gonzalez invited them and two other guests, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant named Daryll and a Frenchman named Philippe, to take shelter in this room. After piling themselves into Room 2324, they locked the door and barricaded in with furniture and a mattress, which they hoped would block any shrapnel from grenades set off by the terrorists on the loose in the hotel.

Then the wait began. They were able to watch TV and use the hotel phone and their cell phones to contact relatives, who in turn called back with information. They grew more concerned when the BBC reported that Americans and Britons were being targeted. From that point onward, the men had Ravi answer all phone calls. They lost TV reception at about 10 am on Thursday; on Thursday evening, they were phoned by hotel personnel who told them they would eventually be rescued.

As the hours wore on, the men grew hungry and thirsty. They shared a packet of cookies from the minibar. They drank the bottled water, then the soda. When they heard they were to be evacuated, they shifted to the beer and hard liquor. Around 11 am on Friday, help arrived and they were escorted from the hotel.

From the Belfast Telegraph:

In the attack at the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, what angered journalist Sebastian D'Souza were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them?"

Another story from the Belfast Telegraph:

The 28-year-old Paul Archer, in Mumbai for business, locked himself inside his room on the 14th floor of the Trident-Oberoi hotel after hearing explosions on Wednesday night. Though his TV stopped working, he was able to keep in touch with family and friends in India and at home and learn of the drama playing out all around him. "I did not believe it until I looked out of the window," he said, referring to the police he could see and the explosions he could hear. From time to time, he would look through the spyhole in his door to see if he could see anything or anyone. As it was he never saw any of the gunmen who had taken control of the hotel complex, or any of the bodies of those people killed. "You have to try to make light of the situation. You have to try to stay calm."

Also from the Belfast Telegraph:

Gill Stephen and a Hong Kong guest down the hall barricaded themselves inside room 2115 at the Trident-Oberoi during the entire seige. The two women locked the door to the room and forced it tight with luggage and furniture. To sustain them through the long hours, they turned to the mini-bar and made the best use of its peanuts and chocolate.

Although they were able to watch TV and access the internet, Stephen said she felt surreally cut off from the events taking place around her. But at times it was also terrifying; watching a television news report that said flames had taken hold of the hotel, she and the other woman placed wet towels across their faces. As it transpired, the fire did not get close so they removed the towels.

At another point, hearing a volley of shots and explosions, the pair of them climbed into the bath and covered themselves with pillows. After about five minutes they felt ridiculous and climbed out. There was another Brit in the hotel. He was on his own in a room and I think he was just randomly dialling other numbers to speak with people. I think it was harder for people on their own."

The most frightening moments had been the final hours as commandos cleared the hotel of gunmen. For them, the end came sometime after noon when the two women received a telephone call from hotel officials. They were told that there would soon be a knock on the door and that staff would collect them. "I opened the door and there was a mixture of people – police, hotel staff and commandos," she said.

From the Daily Mail:

An actor who played a terrorist in a British TV drama was among the Britons caught up in the violence. Joe Jeetun-- who played bomber Shehzad Tanweer in the dramatization of the London Tube attacks-- was in the Leopold cafe when terrorists burst in.

The 31-year-old said he owed his life to a stranger who pushed him to the floor as the firing started. "I heard a noise then this guy jumped on top of me and threw me on the floor. He said 'Get down, get down, don't speak'. I didn't know him but he saved my life. I just curled myself in the smallest ball I could and closed my eyes. I was covered in other people's blood and I think that is what saved me. I hoped that if I stayed still they would think I was already dead."

From the Sunday Telegraph:

The family of 73-year-old Andreas Liveras, the only known British fatality, told how he courageously evaded gunmen for eight hours in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel as he frantically tried to reassure his family that he was safe. Dion Liveras, the victim's son, said: "Even now, we find it beyond belief that he went out for a quiet meal – and lost his life.

"He had been able to contact us all by telephone and by text. All the time, he was reassuring us that he was okay. Eventually, however, the gunmen got into the room where my father was and sprayed bullets. He died from multiple wounds."

See here for a list of known victims (with personal information and circumstances of their deaths) as of Saturday night.


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