Saturday, September 09, 2006

Old-Time Religion

Now that's what I call Christianity:

ATHENS, Ala. - A woman and two roommates are accused of holding her brother at gunpoint as she prayed for his repentance, even firing a shot into the ceiling to keep his attention.

Randy Doss, 46, of Athens said he fled the house when his captors got distracted and later went to police, who were skeptical at first because his story was so bizarre. But police said it checked out, including the bullet hole in the ceiling.

"We found where they patched the hole with caulk," said Sgt. Trevor Harris.

Police said the sister, Tammie Lee Doss, 43, Donna Leigh Bianca, 37, and Ronald David Richie, 45, who live at the Athens house, were charged with unlawful imprisonment, a misdemeanor. The two women were also charged with menacing, a misdemeanor. All were released on bond.

Harris said Randy Doss went to the house about 7 p.m. on Labor Day and at some point got in an argument with the two women about religion. When they prayed for him, he laughed.

"They both got upset and pointed pistols at him," Harris said. "They wouldn't let him leave. Bianca fired one round in the ceiling in the hallway a few feet from the victim's head."


Is It Hot in Here, or Is It Just Her?

Now this might generate some interest in the problem of global warming:
A saloon-style striptease at an Australian government-sponsored conference on global warming left some scientists and government officials hot and bothered.

The show was cut short and organizers issued an apology after some delegates at the Australia and New Zealand Climate Forum's dinner in Canberra walked out during what was intended as a lighthearted break from the weighty business of rising temperatures.

Rebecca Gale, who led the team of dancers from Miss Kitka's House of Burlesque, said the performance was in reasonably good taste and she didn't understand what the fuss was about.


Our Men in Afghanistan

We took out the Taliban (well, more or less anyway), and we replaced them with... democratic leaders? No. With men guilty of horrendous war crimes?

One of the grim realities involved in establishing a government in post-Taliban Afghanistan was that just about anybody who's anybody in that country had blood on his hands. While the Bush Administration sought to paint its Northern Alliance allies as freedom fighters, many of the leading figures in the Mujahideen coalition that captured Kabul in late 2001 were bona fide war criminals.


Rumsfeld, the Anti-Plan Man

I cannot believe this. It wasn't mere negligence; Rumsfeld threatened to fire anyone who wanted to figure out what the hell we would do after taking Baghdad.

Sheerest madness:
Months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists from developing plans for securing a post-war Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday.

In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a post-war plan.


A Fashion Show That Cares about Women and Girls

Shocking, but true. I am very impressed:

Excessively skinny fashion models will be barred from a major Madrid fashion show later this month for fear they could send the wrong message to young Spanish girls, local media reported.

Madrid's regional government, which is co-financing the Pasarela Cibeles, has vetoed around a third of the models who took part in last year's show because they weigh too little.

The authorities collaborated with a Spanish health organisation to come up with a minumum body mass -- a height-weight ratio -- of 18 for the models.


Organisers said they wanted to "help ensure public opinion does not associate fashion, and fashion shows in particular, with an increase in anorexia, a disease which, along with bulimia, is considered ... as a mental and behavioural problem".


Unsafe Sex Toys

Dangerous dildos... What next?
Environmental group Greenpeace called on the European Union to ban the use of chemical plastic softeners in sex toys because they contained dangerous substances known as phthalates.

"Adult sex toys contain the same toxic substances that the European Union banned from use in children's toys," Greenpeace said in a press release from its international headquarters here.

The environmental group said it was shocked to find that seven of the eight sex toys it had tested contained between 24 and 51 percent of phthalates.

Greenpeace research has shown that phthalates can disrupt the human hormonal system, diminishes fertility and adversely affects the kidneys and liver.


The Senate Finally Catches Up

For how many years has everybody with any sense known this?

Saddam Hussein rejected overtures from al-Qaida and believed Islamic extremists were a threat to his regime, a reverse portrait of an Iraq allied with Osama bin Laden painted by the Bush White House, a Senate panel has found.


Tough Luck, Illinois Bigots

Your attempt to enshrine your hatred in law has been thwarted:
A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a conservative group trying to get a same-sex marriage referendum on the November ballot.

Protect Marriage Illinois, a group made of of several anti-gay religious organizations, argued that Illinois election laws "excessively burden access" to the ballot after the state rejected their referendum for not securing enough supporters.

The group submitted 340-thousand names for the referendum to the Illinois Elections Board. It was more than the 283-thousand required, but a spot check by a board panel found only 91percent were valid. (story) The state requires a 95 percent validation rate on test samples.


Shoddy Operation

Of all organizations, especially in the age of AIDS, the Red Cross really needs to adhere to safety regulations, wouldn't you think?
The American Red Cross said money it makes selling blood will help cover the latest in a series of multimillion-dollar government fines. The Food and Drug Administration ordered the Red Cross on Friday to pay $4.2 million for violating blood-safety laws. The record fine is on top of $5.7 million the Red Cross already has been assessed by the FDA since a court settlement reached in 2003.

The latest fine is for violations that include failing to reject donors who had traveled to malarial areas and allowing blood and related products to be distributed without proper testing, said Margaret Glavin, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.


Green Energy Saves Lives

Just ask the soldiers
who are fighting to keep the oil flowing:

Memo to Pentagon brass from the top United States commander in western Iraq: Renewable energy — solar and wind-power generators — urgently needed to help win the fight. Send soon.

Calling for more energy in the middle of oil-rich Iraq might sound odd to some. But not to Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, whose deputies on July 25 sent the Pentagon a "Priority 1" request for "a self-sustainable energy solution" including "solar panels and wind turbines."

The memo may be the first time a frontline commander has called for renewable-energy backup in battle. Indeed, it underscores the urgency: Without renewable power, U.S. forces "will remain unnecessarily exposed" and will "continue to accrue preventable ... serious and grave casualties," the memo says.

Apparently, the brass is heeding that call. The U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF), which speeds frontline requests, is "expected soon" to begin welcoming proposals from companies to build and ship to Iraq 183 frontline renewable-energy power stations, an REF spokesman confirms. The stations would use a mix of solar and wind power to augment diesel generators at U.S. outposts, the spokesman says.

Despite desert temperatures, the hot "thermal signature" of a diesel generator can call enemy attention to U.S. outposts, experts say. With convoys still vulnerable to ambush, the fewer missions needed to resupply outposts with JP-8 fuel to run power generators — among the Army's biggest fuel guzzlers — the better, the memo says.

"By reducing the need for [petroleum] at our outlying bases, we can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our marines, soldiers, and sailors," reads the unclassified memo posted on the website, a defense industry publication that first reported its existence last month.


Protecting Alaska

A bit of good news:
A federal judge issued a preliminary ruling on Thursday that temporarily blocks the U.S. administration's plan to allow oil development in the sensitive wetlands near vast Teshekpuk Lake in Arctic Alaska.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to properly consider the impact of oil development in areas near the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the state's North Slope region, U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton said.

The marshy tundra that lies between Teshekpuk Lake, the biggest inland water body in Arctic Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean is prized for both its wildlife and its petroleum potential.

Singleton said that, unless the BLM can convince him to change his mind, the Teshekpuk Lake sale, scheduled to take place on September 27, might not be held because it was based on flawed environmental assumptions.



A brilliant idea, I think. The graphic novel is an ideal medium for bringing the report to life for a broader audience:
The official report of the 9/11 Commission was that rarest of government documents - a gripping read that became a bestseller and won a national book award. But who really had the time, energy and concentration levels to burrow through the tome's 568 pages? Not illustrator Ernie Colon.

The 75-year-old artist, whose resume includes protracted stints at Marvel and Harvey Comics, gave up after just 50 pages. Then he had the kind of eureka moment that causes light bulbs to flash and exclamation marks to pop open in a bubble above the heads of comic book heroes.

Colon decided to team up with long-time collaborator Sid Jacobson to produce a graphic novel version of the report, which documents intelligence and police failures in the run-up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The result is The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation - a 130-page offering that looks like a comic book and reads like a comic book - complete with sound effects like "BLAMM" when a plane smashes into the Pentagon and "R-RRUMBLE..." when the massive south tower of the World Trade Center begins its terrifying collapse.

The book, which costs 17 dollars in paperback and 30 dollars in hardback version, was published in late August to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the attacks and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at No 6 in the paperback nonfiction category.

Reviews of the book have been mostly favourable. The Chicago Tribune called it "unexpectedly moving," while the Florida Ledger called it riveting and said that "everyone should read it".

The Houston Chronicle wrote this week that it "manages at once to be accessible and intelligent, and marks an important publishing experiment."


Friday, September 08, 2006

Arnold Mucks It Up, Again

Fortunately, California's Latino population is so small as to be politically insignificant:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday apologized for making statements in which he said Cubans and Puerto Ricans were naturally feisty and temperamental because of their combination of “black blood” and “Latino blood.”

Speaking to reporters in Santa Monica following a meeting with the California Chamber of Commerce, Schwarzenegger said the comments “made me cringe” when he read them in the Los Angeles Times, which published some of the recordings Friday.

“Anyone out there that feels offended by those comments, I just want to say I'm sorry, I apologize,” Schwarzenegger said.

He added that if he heard his children make similar comments, “I would be upset.”


Rose-Colored Glasses

Rose-colored, or perhaps just stained with blood from non-casualties:

U.S. officials, seeking a way to measure the results of a program aimed at decreasing violence in Baghdad, aren't counting scores of dead killed in car bombings and mortar attacks as victims of the country's sectarian violence.

In a distinction previously undisclosed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said Friday that the United States is including in its tabulations of sectarian violence only deaths of individuals killed in drive-by shootings or by torture and execution.

That has allowed U.S. officials to boast that the number of deaths from sectarian violence in Baghdad declined by more than 52 percent in August over July.

But it eliminates from tabulation huge numbers of people whose deaths are certainly part of the ongoing conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Not included, for example, are scores of people who died in a highly coordinated bombing that leveled an entire apartment building in eastern Baghdad, a stronghold of rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.


Catblogging: Cat Tree Edition

I suspect that this kitty jungle gym is pretty much the single best investment we've ever made.

(Bottom picture: Gramsci and Zora moments from a top-down smackdown. It is one of their favorite activities.)


Let Them Eat Toxins

Given the bang-up job the feds did with the New Orleans levees, this negligence is simply shocking:
Stunning proof has been uncovered that the government knowingly put New Yorkers in harm's way after 9/11.

CBS 2 News has obtained documents revealing that Lower Manhattan was reopened a few weeks following the attack even though the air was not safe.

The two devastating memos, written by the U.S. and local governments, show they knew. They knew the toxic soup created at Ground Zero was a deadly health hazard. Yet they sent workers into the pit and people back into their homes.


No More Free Jeebus

Well done:
A federal judge ordered a small-town school to suspend a program that gives free Bibles to students, saying it improperly promotes Christianity.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry also scolded school officials for continuing the program after warnings that it violated the Constitution.

South Iron Elementary in Annapolis, a town of 300 in southeastern Missouri, has quietly allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to fifth-graders for years. After concerns were raised last year, the then-superintendent consulted with the district's attorneys and insurance company and recommended that the handouts stop, but the school board voted to continue them.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's a Kitty Snugglefest Over Here!

Getting an early start on the catblogging to make up for the lateness last time!

Tista, Gramsci, and Zora watching the world go by their window. New neighbors were moving in, so it was even more exciting than usual.


Lies, Lies, Lies

August did NOT see improvement in Iraq:

We took an interesting phone call today from an official at the Baghdad morgue. We get these calls every day – a daily tally of the violence. But this one was particularly sobering.

It turns out the official toll of violent deaths in August was just revised upwards to 1535 from 550, tripling the total. Now, we’re depressingly used to hearing about deaths here, so much so that the numbers can be numbing. But this means that a much-publicized drop-off in violence in August – heralded by both the Iraqi government and the US military as a sign that a new security effort in Baghdad was working -- apparently didn’t exist.


Oh, Bloody Hell

Great. First, a vile and unnecessary war. Now, Weldon wants to use the war as an excuse to enact what amounts to a partial military coup d'etat:

The second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is a strong supporter of the U.S. military mission in Iraq, has drafted a resolution that would give military commanders — instead of President Bush or Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld — decision-making authority over when American troops should return home.


What's in a Name?

The legacy of colonialism
, actually. And India is working to erase it:

By year's end, however, Bangalore could go the way of Bombay, changing its name from an international totem to a Jeopardy question. What is the city formerly known as Bangalore: Bengaluru. Or perhaps Bengalooru.

The trend that began vexing cartographers a decade ago when Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, and Calcutta became Kolkata has only gained speed. Last month, the "French Riviera of the East" decided it wasn't so French after all, dropping its Francophile name, Pondicherry, for Puducherry.

In part, India is merely sweeping clean the last corners of colonialism - offending few beyond upper-class English-speaking Indians and outsiders who have wrapped India's identity in its anglicized names. In part, its politicians are using words as a tool - sometimes more to divide than to unite.

But underneath all is a new and unprecedented Indian self-assurance. More than half a century after the British left, India is making a statement that can be seen from politics to its economics: We are now a power in our own right, and the world must come to accept us on our own terms...


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Contraceptive Common Sense

Of course, from that headline you know that I cannot be talking about the United States:
Teenage girls could be offered the morning after pill at schools in England under government plans to cut the increasing rate of teenage pregnancies, it emerged today.

School nurses could be allowed to arrange abortions for pupils and the government will encourage boys to use condoms by making them more freely available through schools.

The prime minister, Tony Blair, yesterday used a speech on social exclusion to outline plans for a new drive against teenage pregnancy, which will be spelled out in detail in a strategy paper next week.

Mr Blair said: "We will focus efforts on teenage pregnancy on those areas where rates are rising against the overall downward trend, with improved social and relationships education.

"We will begin an expanded media campaign and offer better access to contraceptives, where appropriate."

It is understood the government would tell school nurses and visiting GPs to help pupils get pregnancy tests, the morning after pill and terminations without their parents' knowledge.


Casting the Doctrine of Infallibility in Doubt, with a Hat

Yes, that's Pope Ratzi, the man with a direct line to God...


It Just Keeps Getting Better

Seems global warming may just be, um, snowballing faster than we thought:
Global warming gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of the thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb.

Methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought, according to a study being published Thursday in the journal Nature. The findings are based on new, more accurate measuring techniques.

"The effects can be huge," said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks said. "It's coming out a lot and there's a lot more to come out."

Scientists worry about a global warming vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already under way thaws permafrost, soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years. Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost and so on.


More Than One Corrupt DeLay

Over three grand a month for a no-show job. Must be nice:
The Justice Department's congressional lobbying-and-bribery investigation is looking into whether former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's wife received money from a lobbying firm for a no-show job, recent FBI interviews indicate.

The two-year investigation is examining whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others sought legislative favors for their clients by offering expensive meals, sports tickets, golf outings and other gifts to about a dozen lawmakers and congressional aides.

In the last few weeks, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have interviewed several people at the Alexander Strategy Group lobbying firm to determine if Christine DeLay was being paid $3,200 a month -- a total of $115,000 over three years -- but not earning it. In a series of interviews last month, investigators questioned people who used to work at Alexander Strategy as well as people who worked in the same building as the now-defunct firm. "They wanted to know how often she came to the office? What did she do there? How long was she there?" said one person who was interviewed by the FBI.


Crazy M*therf*cker for Senate

The GOP sure knows how to pick 'em:
U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris overcame a campaign ridiculed even by her own party to easily claim the GOP nomination for the Senate on Tuesday, and Rep. Jim Davis won the Democratic nomination to succeed popular Gov. Jeb Bush.


Forced to Learn Tolerance

Good for New York
Five parents who objected to their children being taught by a transsexual have been told the students cannot transfer out of the class.

The teacher, whose name is being withheld, has been the talk of the campus at Batavia High School, near Buffalo, New York.

She is in the midst of transitioning and school officials, in the days leading up to the beginning of the fall term which began today, have held a series of public meetings for parents and students to educate them on transsexuality, and New York State's anti-bias law.

Following this week's meetings the five parents submitted written requests to the school board requesting that their children be taught by someone else.

Schools Superintendent Richard Stutzman tells the Batavia Daily News that the requests did not meet the guidelines set out by the district but refused to provide specifics about what was in the letters.


About That Secret Gulag We Don't Have...

um, well...

US President George Bush has acknowledged for the first time that the CIA interrogated dozens of terrorism suspects at secret overseas locations and that 14 of those held had been sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush made the surprise admission as he prodded the US Congress to approve rules for military commissions to try such detainees and with national security a key issue for Republicans who face the possibility of losses in the November congressional elections.

Bush strongly defended the secret detention and questioning of terrorism suspects and said the CIA treated them humanely and did not torture. His announcement was greeted with some skepticism by human rights activists. The detention program, disclosed last year by The Washington Post, provoked an international outcry.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Very, Very Bad News

Every step toward containment of AIDS seems to come up against yet another insurmountable obstacle:
World health officials last night put out an unprecedented warning that deadly new strains of tuberculosis, virtually untreatable using the drugs currently available, appear to be spreading across the globe.

The new strains are known as extreme drug-resistant TB, or XDR-TB. They have been identified and have killed people in several countries, including the United States and eastern Europe, and they have recently been found in Africa, where they could swiftly put an end to all hope of containing the Aids pandemic through treatment.

Yesterday Paul Nunn, who heads the World Health Organisation's TB resistance team, said the situation was very serious. There are 9m cases of TB in the world and the WHO estimates that 2% of them - or 180,000 - could be XDR-TB.

"This is raising the spectre of something that we have been worried might happen for a decade - the possibility of virtually untreatable TB," said Dr Nunn.

Even in the United States, which has the best medicines available, a third of those who have been diagnosed with XDR-TB have died. In March, the Centres for Disease Control in the US registered that there had been 64 cases of XDR-TB; 21 of those ended in death.


AIDS Refugees

The conference in Canada last month might mean immediate life-saving measures for over a hundred people:

One-hundred-and-thirty-seven delegates to the International AIDS Conference, held last month in Toronto, are seeking refugee status in Canada, alleging they face persecution and denial of life-saving medication if they are returned home.

The group includes people from South Africa, El Salvador, Eritrea, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Many of them are women.

They are being housed in Toronto area hostels awaiting immigration board hearings.

One claimant, Eritrean AIDS activist Amanuel Tesfamichael, told the Toronto Sun newspaper that his government allowed him travel to Canada but his passport was held by two Eritrean officials who traveled with him.

"I was only allowed to leave my homeland for 10 days," he told the Sun. "The government didn't want me to leave the country."


Activists have repeatedly demanded the dismissal of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who promotes beets, garlic and lemon as remedies for AIDS.

``What they are doing is yap, yap, yap,'' Tshabalala-Msimang said in an interview with the Toronto Star during the conference. ``I don't listen to them.''

``I want anybody to challenge me that it's not important to eat nutritious food. If I have a cold."

South Africa has the world's highest infection rate for HIV/AIDS.


America = Northern Iraq?

Condi Rice commits yet another Crime Against Analogy:
Secretary of State Rice compared the Iraq war with the American Civil War, telling a magazine that slavery might have lasted longer in this country if the North had decided to end the fight early.

"I'm sure there are people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold," Rice said in the new issue of Essence magazine.

"I know there were people who said, 'Why don't we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves?'" Rice said.


A Little More Justice in Argentina

Step by step:

An Argentine judge has overturned presidential pardons granted to two top ministers from the 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.

The judge Monday ruled as unconstitutional the pardons granted by President Carlos Menem in 1989 and 1990 to Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, a former economy minister, and former Interior Minister Albano Harguindeguy.

The two ministers were investigated for their alleged role in the abductions of textile businessman Federico Gutheim and his son, Miguel, in the late 1970s. Authorities say the motive was to pressure the Gutheims into accepting an export contract that would have benefited the Economy Ministry.

Last year, Argentina's Supreme Court overturned amnesty laws protecting military and police officials from prosecution for human rights violations during the country's so-called "Dirty War."


Lieberman: Useless Idiot

Not that the White House didn't give it their best shot to make use of him:

The White House funneled millions of dollars through major Republican Party contributors to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s primary campaign in a failed effort to ensure the support of the former Democrat for the Bush administration.

A senior GOP source said the money was part of Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove's strategy to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate in November.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Catblogging

...because cats really know the meaning of hard work.