Saturday, January 15, 2005

Inclusiveness Too "Distracting"

We can't have little things like social justice and tolerance interfere with education, now can we?
Berkmar High School students opened the school newspaper to a blank editorial page after the school's principal ordered the staff to yank two opinion pieces about a new club for straight and gay teens.

Gwinnett County school officials said Principal Kendall Johnson told the staff to remove the editorials because he felt it would disturb students during exam time.

"Mr. Johnson was not going to allow there to be distractions from what they are about teaching and learning," Gwinnett Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. "The point/counterpoint was inflammatory in nature and could be disruptive."


Can You Say, "Let Them Eat Cake"?

Laura can:
With less than a week to go until her husband's second inauguration, Laura Bush on Friday defended the decision to hold the $40 million celebration as planned despite a war abroad and the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean.

Inaugurations, Mrs. Bush said, are "an important part of our history."

"They're a ceremony of our history; they're a ritual of our government," she said in a round-table interview with reporters in the White House map room. "And I think it's really important to have the inauguration every time. I think it's also good for Washington's economy, for people to come in from around the country, for the hotels to be full, and the restaurants to be full, and the caterers to be busy. I think that's important."

She added: "I think there's a symbolic aspect of the inauguration that - and because of that, the symbol of the inauguration, you never want to - for any reason - cancel it or not have it."

As for the parties themselves, Mrs. Bush said she was "all ready."

"Not all the new clothes are in the house," she said, "but they've all had their last fitting."


Friday, January 14, 2005

Tardy Catblogging


Demon Catblogging!


Apres Tista, le Deluge

Here's Tista helping us rip out the carpet ruined by the disastrous flood (the flood that resulted in my having to create a wish list to replace lost books):


Surreal Catblogging


More Catblogging!



Graner is guilty:

Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr., the reputed ringleader of a band of rogue guards at the Abu Ghraib prison, was convicted Friday of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that sparked international outrage when photographs were released that showed reservists gleefully abusing prisoners.

Graner, the first soldier to be tried on charges arising from the scandal, was convicted of all five charges and faces up to 17 1/2 years behind bars.

The jury took less than five hours to reach the verdict.

The verdict came after a 4 1/2-day trial in which prosecutors depicted Graner as a sadistic soldier who took great pleasure in seeing detainees suffer. He was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs. He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out, and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick.





Derrida famously used the Greek term "pharmakon" to demonstrate his revolutionary deconstructionist method of semiotic analysis. The word can mean both poison and cure; based on this ambiguity, Derrida spins a narrative of linguistic play that is both illuminating and insightful.

The life of the mind can be so elegant, so graceful.

The real world, in which the play of language has very real effects, is more brutal. And in the real world, one man's cure can in the most grotesquely literal sense be another man's poison:
Nagamani slaps a wet shirt against a rock. "Oh, no, I only wash clothes in this stream," she says. "If you bathe in it, you get a rash."

She pulls more clothes from her bucket. It's a quiet, peaceful scene, typical of rural India – if you don't get too close to the dark brown stream water with its strange odor, and if you turn your back to the dark plumes rising from a half-dozen smokestacks on the horizon.

Outside his home in the nearby village of Gandigudem, a farmer named Janardhan points to his abandoned plow, his junked rice mill and his idle irrigation well and pump. "Around here, if we have good water we can survive," he says. "Now, without good water, we're finished. If this pump still worked, the water would be coming out of the ground that color." He points to my bright green shirt.

Two miles upstream from Gandigudem is the notorious Kazipally industrial area, home to an assortment of chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Behind one factory, identified by a sign as belonging to SMS Pharmaceuticals, tar-like water dribbles over a concrete dam, runs down a deep gully, and meanders through a barren field beyond.

A second sign in front of the plant, erected by court order, lists some of the chemicals being used: toluene, methyl isothiocyanate, DMSO, chloroform. It's nearly impossible to breathe anywhere within a hundred yards of the plant, and it's hard not to retch.

Aurobindo Pharma Ltd., typical of the larger companies operating in the area, makes a wide array of products: antibiotics, anti-HIV drugs, antidepressants, drugs to lower blood pressure, statins to lower cholesterol, cardiovascular drugs, and remedies for acid reflux, athlete's foot and osteoporosis. Some of these products, designed to alleviate diseases of affluence, would hold little interest for most of India's rural population. But the people who live and work in the Nakkavagu basin appear to be far sicker than average, hit with diseases of the rich as well as those of the poor.

Dr. Allani Kishan Rao has practiced medicine and fought pollution in Patancheru for 30 years. He says, "Illness rates here are more than 25 percent, compared with 10 percent nationally. I'm sure it is related to the chemical intermediates, organic solvents, and gases that come out of the pharmaceutical plants and the factories that supply them."


The Vile Bugman

He is vile in, oh, so many ways. This is but the latest:
The Democratic Party launched a petition Friday telling the White House not to push for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The DNC in its Pride at the Polls newsletter to more than 100,000 party supporters calls on President Bush to abandon his call for the amendment and to tell House Majority Leader Tom Delay to " stop discriminating against Americans."

DeLay (R-Texas) has made it clear that it's at the top of the Republican legislative agenda, warning, "We will come back and come back until this is passed."


Changing the World

I'm sure this is merest coincidence, and has nothing to do with, say, an unprovoked invasion:
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."


The Bloody Hypothetical

It's nauseating that these people continue to trot out these "worst-case" scenarios to justify crimes against humanity that are going on today:

Speaking to the BBC, Tom Ridge said the US did not condone the use of torture to extract information from terrorists.

But he said that "under an extreme set of circumstances" such as the threat of a nuclear attack, "it could happen".

It comes a day after the US was accused of eroding human rights by campaigners.


I'm Shocked! Shocked!

The otherwise cutting-edge state of Kansas has rejected the notion of equal protection under the law. Nice to know that they proceeded in a deliberative and circumspect manner before coming to their conclusion:
Senators adopted a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution on Thursday that bans same-sex marriage and prevents the state from allowing civil unions or granting other legal recognition to gay relationships.

The measure declares that only couples in a union of one man and one woman would be entitled to benefits normally associated with marriage.
The Senate moved with unusual speed to consider the measure. Republican leaders scheduled the vote on the fourth day of the legislative session, without having public hearings or a committee review. Debate lasted less than an hour.


Military Intelligence

This is just bloody hilarious. The innovative minds of the Pentagon just never quit, do they? These schemes are right up there with making Castro's beard fall out:

THE Pentagon considered developing a host of non-lethal chemical weapons that would disrupt discipline and morale among enemy troops, newly declassified documents reveal.

Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale, the proposal says.

Other ideas included chemical weapons that attract swarms of enraged wasps or angry rats to troop positions, making them uninhabitable. Another was to develop a chemical that caused "severe and lasting halitosis", making it easy to identify guerrillas trying to blend in with civilians. There was also the idea of making troops' skin unbearably sensitive to sunlight.

The proposals, from the US Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, date from 1994. The lab sought Pentagon funding for research into what it called "harassing, annoying and 'bad guy'-identifying chemicals". The plans have been posted online by the Sunshine Project, an organisation that exposes research into chemical and biological weapons.

Spokesman Edward Hammond says it was not known if the proposed $7.5 million, six-year research plan was ever pursued.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Texas Lege

It's back in session, more's the pity. One of the bills in particular caught my eye.

Here's the Austin Chronicle's take on it:
HB 109: Wong's...bill would name the Capitol roundabout the "Ronald Reagan Circle"--why not just "Road to Nowhere"?


Pissing on FDR's Legacy

The Bush administration once more proves that it has neither shame, nor morals, nor scruples:

The grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Thursday protested use of FDR's image in a television ad touting President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.

"My grandfather would surely oppose the ideas now being promoted by this administration and your organization," James Roosevelt Jr., wrote in a letter to Progress for America, a private group that supports conservative issues.

Roosevelt, who served as the Social Security Administration's associate commissioner for retirement policy in the Clinton administration, said, "On behalf of my family, I would ask that you cease using my grandfather's image in your advertising campaign."

Progress for America, in a statement, said it appreciated the feedback from Roosevelt but "will continue to air the ad in its entirety. ... Strengthening Social Security continues FDR's legacy and giving younger workers the option of a voluntary personal retirement account is an important part of this effort."

The ad, running on Fox News and CNN through January 19, shows FDR signing the legislation creating the Social Security system and refers to the courage needed both to create the system and to protect it.

To compare the courage needed to create Social Security "to the courage it will take to dismantle the most successful social program in history is simply unconscionable," Roosevelt, 70, wrote.


A Win for Reason

The actions of the anti-evolutionists are not merely idiotic. They're unconstitutional:
A federal judge Thursday ordered a suburban Atlanta school system to remove stickers from its high school biology textbooks that call evolution “a theory, not a fact,” saying the disclaimers are an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

“By denigrating evolution, the school board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories,” U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said.

The stickers were put inside the books’ front covers by public school officials in Cobb County in 2002. They read: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

“This is a great day for Cobb County students,” said Michael Manely, an attorney for the parents who sued over the stickers. “They’re going to be permitted to learn science unadulterated by religious dogma.”


Happy 400th Birthday

This anniversary strikes me as timely. We need to be reminded of the need to be at least a little mad in order to survive in this mad world:
William Faulkner read it every year. Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez peruses it daily. One expert recommends you read it three times before you die, while another envies those who haven't touched it - yet.

Don Quixote, the endearing tale of an eccentric knight errant and his longsuffering sidekick, Sancho Panza - described variously as the "universal novel" or the "bible of humanity" - celebrates its 400th birthday on Sunday, triggering a party for one of the world's most acclaimed literary works that will last throughout 2005.
Juan Victorio, medieval literature professor at Spain's National Open University, concedes that few people bother to pick it up in the first place. "Everyone has it on their bookshelves but not even a minority get through it," he says.

Victorio, who first experiences the book when he read it to his bedridden, illiterate grandfather as a child, believes that "one needs be in a certain mental have suffered at life's hands" before taking on Quixote. "Its message is that you're either mad or you'll end up mad," Victorio said. "If you have goodness in your heart and want to help humanity you have to pretend you're mad for them to pay you any attention."


The Argentina Gambit

There are many, many minds out there with a firmer grasp on international economics than I possess; perhaps some of them read this blog and can chime in with interpretations of these events, brought to my attention by valued commenter Karin.

As I see it, Argentina knuckled under to the demands of the IMF, leading to disaster in 2001. Then, it took the rare step of ignoring the IMF's requirements, in an act of gall generally unthinkable in developing nations. In doing so, the country embraced a course of action that led to actual recovery, which it is enjoying today.

And they may get off scot-free, without any punishment for defying the mighty IMF. Setting quite an example that other nations may do well to follow:
Something significant is happening, which could change the relationship between the world's most powerful financial institutions and the many governments that rely upon them for borrowing. Argentina's government, which in 2001 defaulted on its sovereign debts worth $100bn, is this week offering its creditors a deal: to settle for around 25 cents in the dollar, take it or leave it. Naturally, many of the banks and institutions which made the loans are up in arms. But the most important question about Argentina's bold offer is: will the country get away with it?

Typically, countries which default on their sovereign debts are later forced to abase themselves to win forgiveness: the markets have a long memory and freeze out defaulters in order to punish them (as well as protecting themselves). Yet president Néstor Kirchner's administration has broken all the rules, and seems likely to get away scot-free. Not only has Argentina made its blunt offer, but it has also refused to negotiate with its 700,000 bondholders. If as few as two-thirds of its creditors agree, then Argentina will be free to re-enter the international financial markets. Ironically, many bondholders accuse Argentina of bullying its creditors, a reversal of the role that developing nations usually play.

Even by cutting its Gordian knot of debt this way, Argentina will still be participating in the world's largest and most complicated debt-swap. A clear majority of lenders must agree to swallow losses of up to 75% of their 2001 holdings. Finance minister Roberto Lavagna responds that this is the most that Argentina can repay without jeopardising growth or harming its social standards. Having held out for three years, Argentina can capitalise on its remarkable revival after the chaotic collapse at the end of 2001, after its attempts to follow the ill-fated and unwise prescriptions of the IMF.


Running for Cover

A pathetic spectacle of cowardice, as the Louisiana governor claims she never meant to protect the rights of all gays, just her gays:
In the face of opposition from GOP lawmakers Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco is backtracking on what her executive order prohibiting employment discrimination against gay and lesbian state workers exactly means.

Blanco's top lawyer now says that the order, signed the order last month, (story) only covers workers in her office. The order which also extends to any business contracting with the government and requires those companies to have non-discrimination policies covering their lesbian and gay workers, had been touted as applying to any state agency.


Texas, Right and Wrong

Three Texas Democrats have filed a bill to protect students from discrimination based on such things as race, religion, and sexual orientation.

"Every Texas student has the right to a public education," said State Representative Garnet Coleman. Coleman was joined by Reps. Jessica Farrar, and Rafael Anchia.

"When students are discriminated against in school and the school does nothing about it, we are failing them in a very fundamental way. When we say, 'Leave no child behind,' we do not footnote that statement with, 'unless they are gay, lesbian, or transgender'. The Dignity for All Students Act will help set a tone in Texas that no type of discrimination will be tolerated in this state."


A Baylor University student who had his scholarship taken away after he came out is now being sued by the school.

James Matthew Bass is accused of sending lewd e-mails to employees and their families.

After his scholarship was withdrawn Bass was forced to quit the Baptist school.

In its lawsuit Baylor alleges that Bass sent more than 1,000 e-mails containing pornographic images and messages. In filing the suit the university was granted a restraining order prohibiting him from sending any e-mails to Baylor officials or their families.
But, the suit appears to lack proof that the emails came from Bass. The suit asks the court to require Bass to produce his computer equipment for inspection by Baylor representatives, and to prohibit him from changing any data stored on that computer.


Honoring the Dead

In Louisiana, they are defying Bush's cowardly policy, and refusing to sweep American casualties under the rug:

The Pentagon has barred US media from filming the coffins of US service members arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

But the Louisiana National Guard allowed a CBS news crew on Wednesday to film the arrival of six soldiers' coffins at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, near New Orleans, Louisiana.

Despite the Pentagon request, Lieutenant-Colonel Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the Louisiana National Guard told CBS: "What we thought was, we're going to do what the family asked us to do."

Footage broadcast by CBS showed an honour guard carrying the soldiers' flag-draped coffins out of an aircraft, watched by grieving families, to six waiting hearses.


They Still Allow This Sort of Thing?

I was under the impression that all protests against what our government is doing in our name had to be held somewhere in northeastern Nevada, so as to avoid hurting W's delicate feelings. But, no!

The National Park Service has agreed to give thousands of anti-war demonstrators a prime spot along President Bush (news - web sites)'s inaugural parade route that will allow them to protest during the procession.

The anti-war group A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition is planning to erect its own bleachers in the space, an open plaza on Pennsylvania Ave., just a few blocks from the Capitol building, said Brian Becker, national coordinator for the group. The bleachers could seat up to 1,000 people and the park service estimates up to 10,000 could fill the space standing shoulder to shoulder.

"I don't think it's ever happened in history that the anti-war movement has ever been able to have this kind of setup," Becker said.

Park service spokesman Bill Line said the agency has offered the space in John Marshall Plaza to the group but is still waiting for them to submit written confirmation. Becker said A.N.S.W.E.R. plans to submit the paperwork as soon as they can work out details about where to set up the bleachers.

The presidential motorcade carrying Bush will pass directly in front of the protesters' bleachers, which will be across the street from other bleachers set up by the official inaugural committee. The plaza, between the federal courthouse and the Canadian embassy, runs about 240 feet along the historic street that stretches from the Capitol to the White House.



Of course, whenever one says "I am not worthy," it tends to be an attention-getting ploy, and this is probably no exception.

But, I recently became aware that I've been nominated for a Koufax Award for Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, alongside many other more brilliant blogs.

Thanks! And if you've a mind to, go vote for me! (Yes, I'm looking at you, KJ and Rosie.) You will have the honor, as of this writing, of being the first to do so.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Middle Eastern Escalation


Israel kept a stern official silence last night in the face of reports that Russia was on the brink of selling Syria sophisticated missiles in the biggest arms deal between the two countries for 15 years.

The reports were the most plausible explanation yet for what had seemed to be a mysterious mood of crisis in relations between Russia and Israel in the preparations for a three-day visit to Moscow this month by the Syrian President, Bashar Assad.

The weaponry for sale to the Syrians included the Iskander E missile with a target range which would cover most of Israel, including its nuclear reactor site at Dimona, the Moscow newspaper Kommersant reported.

A second report on Israeli TV's Channel Two said Russia had plans to sell Syria an arms package which included SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles which could threaten Israel's aircraft flying over Syria and Lebanon in an attempt to curb attacks by Hizbollah guerrillas over her northern border.


Ah, Capitalism

Bad taste sells:
The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. said Wednesday it would continue selling its strait-jacketed "Crazy for You Bear" through Valentine's Day (news - web sites), despite protests from mental health advocates.

"We recognize that this is a sensitive, human issue and sincerely apologize if we have offended anyone," the company said in a statement. "That was certainly not our intent.

"This bear was created in the spirit of Valentine's Day and as with all of our bears it was designed to be a light-hearted depiction of the sentiment of love," it added.

The bear, being marketed for Valentine's Day, comes with commitment papers and is meant to convey out-of-control love.

Mental health advocates believe the bear is "a tasteless use of marketing that stigmatizes persons with mental illness," Jerry Goessel, the executive director of the Vermont chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, wrote to the Shelburne-based company.

"A strait jacket is not a symbol that we want to associate with sales of a teddy bear for loved ones over Valentine's Day," Goessel said. "And the use of commitment papers, legal documents committing an individual to involuntary treatment, is not something to be taken casually."



I'm sick and tired of all the protestations that offering national health care would somehow ruin our great and glorious American medical system.

The American system, quite frankly, sucks. And, under George W. Bush, that devout "pro-lifer," more babies are dying:
Here's a wrenching fact: If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.

Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S.

Even more troubling, the rate in the U.S. has worsened recently.

In every year since 1958, America's infant mortality rate improved, or at least held steady. But in 2002, it got worse: 7 babies died for each thousand live births, while that rate was 6.8 deaths the year before.


Louisiana: Prohibiting Discrimination Is Illegal

Yeah, this is what I'd want my elected representative to be spending their time on: fighting for corporations' right to cheat gay employees. Just grand:
Two Louisiana Republicans, one a state senator and the other a member of Congress, say that an executive order by Gov. Kathleen Blanco prohibiting employment discrimination against gay and lesbian state government employees may be illegal. The Order extends to any business contracting with the state and requires those companies to have non-discrimination policies covering their lesbian and gay workers.


Sentencing by Jury

Not but judge. Interestingly, the Supreme Court is holding fast to this stance, and even expanding its scope:
A Supreme Court ruling puts longtime federal sentencing rules in doubt.

Justices have ruled that federal judges have been improperly adding time to criminals' sentences.

In a five-four vote, the court expanded the scope of its ruling from last June that juries, not judges, should consider factors that can add years to sentences. The justices have extended that ruling to include the 17-year-old federal guideline system.


Dumping Limbaugh

If only more radio stations would follow suit and stop broadcasting this man's twisted, hate-filled lies:
A southern Vermont-based radio station will trade in the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts for the liberal commentary of Air America next week.

WKVT-AM 1490 in Brattleboro will replace four of its weekday syndicated conservative talk shows on Jan. 17 with programs from the fledgling liberal radio network Air America, which launched in March.

The station will be the second in Vermont to broadcast Air America programs, which include shows hosted by comedian Al Franken and actress Jeanne Garofalo.

The Brattleboro area is highly liberal in its political beliefs and the Air America shows will be a better fit for the station's listeners than the conservative programs hosted by Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, said WKVT program director Peter Case.

"We're calling this a right-to-left switch," he said. "For many years, our programming leaned to the right, but Brattleboro is a very liberal area and our lineup had to reflect that."


Look, It's Trying to Think

He'd almost be cute, if he didn't have so much power:
Mr. Bush told editors and reporters of The Washington Times yesterday in an interview in the Oval Office that many in the public misunderstand the role of faith in his life and his view of the proper relationship between religion and the government.

"I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person," Mr. Bush said. "I've never said that. I've never acted like that. I think that's just the way it is."



A New Record

Bush just keeps on outdoing himself. This time, it's the trade deficit:
The nation's trade deficit jumped sharply in November, rising to $60.3 billion, the highest figure ever and an increase of 7 percent over the month before, the Commerce Department reported today.

The new figures were released shortly after Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans spoke in Beijing, warning China's leaders that continuation of the massive trade imbalance between the two countries could lead to increased political tensions.

The United States's trade deficit with China in November was $16.6 billion, down slightly from October. It is only slightly smaller than the trade deficit with Japan and Europe combined.

"When China's leaders fail to produce results on the points of friction in our trading relationship, heir failure only empowers those critics within the U.S. political system," Mr. Evans said in a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, Bloomberg News reported.

The dollar fell sharply after news of the new trade figures, dropping 0.9 percent against the euro, to 1.3226, and 0.9 percent against the yen, to 102.43. The trade deficit is on a pace to exceed $600 billion, up from $496.5 billion last year.

Mr. Evan's appeal today underscored the extent to which the trade imbalance is becoming a worrying political as well as economic issue. A report issued on Tuesday by a Congressionally appointed panel said that without the trade deficit with China, the United States would have 1.5 million more jobs than it does today. China on Tuesday released figures showing that its overall trade surplus rose to a record $11.1 billion in December, a trend that has let it accumulate huge reserves of dollars.


Worse Than Saddam

According to a man who endured our torture, even those who set the bar for American behavior so low as to argue that the invasion was justified because we're "better than Saddam" are fooling themselves:
A former inmate at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison forced by U.S. guards to masturbate in public and piled onto a pyramid of naked men said Tuesday even Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not do such things.

The inmate testified at the court martial of reservist soldier Charles Graner, accused ringleader of guards who engaged in the abuse, which prompted outrage when pictures of the sexual humiliation were published around the world.

"I couldn't believe in the beginning that this could happen, but I wished I could kill myself because no one was there to stop it," Hussein Mutar, who was sent to Abu Ghraib accused of car theft, said in videotaped testimony.

"They were torturing us as though it was theater for them," he said, as the prosecution wound up its case against Graner on assault, dereliction of duty and other charges that could bring him up to 17 1/2 years in prison.

An obviously ill-at ease Mutar added: "I was extremely emotional because (even) Saddam didn't do this to us."

I guess he doesn't like cheerleading.


Virginia: Strike Three

It's the state that just keeps on giving. First, a proposal to start producing homophobic license plates (of all things). Then, a bizarre law threatening women who have miscarriages and fail to report them with fines and imprisonment.

Now, cleansing libraries of gay-related information:
Two bills that would require any public library that receives state funds to install filtering software on its computers could result in a ban on sites providing gay community news and information.

The lawmakers who have proposed the legislation say it is necessary to protect children from unwittingly stumbling across pornography while using the Internet at their local libraries.
The bill would simply put Virginia in line with federal law, said Nixon, who filed a similar bill last session that was killed in committee.

A 2000 federal law mandated that public libraries put blocking technology on computers as a condition for receiving federal money. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 upheld the use of anti-pornography Internet filters in public libraries.

But, opponents of the legislation argue that it amounts to censorship, and relies on imperfect technology that can block legitimate sites on such topics as abortion or gay rights.

If you go back and actually read the Supreme Court decision, a few things become clear. First, the judgment has little, if any, logic supporting it. Second, the justices just wanted to do something to show that they were "thinking of the children." Third, they don't have a bloody clue as to how this filtering software works, and they didn't bother to find out before handing down this travesty of a decision.


Our Victims

As America continues to release a few prisoners here, and a few there, from Guantanamo, their home nations get to witness and deal with the repercussions of American torture:
The four Britons soon to be released from Guantánamo Bay after up to three years in detention may need months of care when they arrive back home, experts in treating torture victims warned yesterday.

Foreign secretary Jack Straw yesterday confirmed the men would be released by the United States within weeks after being held without charge as alleged terrorists.

A total of nine British citizens had been held by the US at Guantánamo Bay, with five being released last March.

The failure of the government to secure the release of the remaining four had been embarrassing, especially after a direct plea last year from Tony Blair to President Bush appeared at first to have been snubbed.
Louise Christian, solicitor for two of the four still detained, called on police not to arrest them, saying they should be treated as torture victims, not criminal suspects.

Moazzam Begg's father said he feared for his son's mental and physical health. Azmat Begg said: "My biggest fear is for his mental health as he has been in solitary confinement for so long and has been tortured badly."
The Tory MP Douglas Hogg QC, a former Foreign Office minister, called for the British government to support a bid for compensation for the men. "Their detention was unlawful and if it was unlawful they are entitled to call the American authorities to account for that," he said.


We Give Up

The ostensible reason for our invasion of Iraq has officially become yesterday's news:
The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

In interviews, officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Interestingly, gay marriage is a "challenges of life" issue, whereas the invasion of Iraq doesn't top the list. I had no idea that gay marriage had killed tens of thousands of people; you learn something new every day:
Pope John Paul II put lobbying against gay marriage at the top of the Vatican's agenda for 2005 and also urged politicians in prosperous nations Monday to do more for the millions of hungry people around the globe.

In a speech to the diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the ailing, 84-year-old pontiff laid out the Roman Catholic Church's priorities for the new year, making clear he intended to use his energies to tackle what he called "challenges of life" issues — abortion, cloning, gay marriage, assisted procreation and embryonic stem cell use.


Victory in Illinois

Another state bucks the homophobic trend:
After a decade long struggle to gain civil rights protections the Illinois legislature has passed a law banning the discrimination of gays and lesbians.

The House passed the measure by a 65 - 51 vote Tuesday on the final day of the session. The bill passed the Senate Monday night. It now goes to Gov. Rod Blagojevich who has said he will sign it.

The law adds "sexual orientation" to the state law that protects people from bias based on race, religion and similar traits. It applies to discrimination in jobs, housing, public accommodations or credit.

Opponents argued it would lead to approval of gay marriage in Illinois, supporters called it a basic human rights issue, saying discrimination of gays and lesbians over housing and employment is just as wrong as discriminating against people because of race or religion.

Meanwhile, Oregon might soon protect its gay citizens as well.


Monday, January 10, 2005

We Beat Cheerleaders

The twisted meme likening Abu Ghraib to various college activities lives on. First it was "fraternity hazing," and now this:
A lawyer for Charles Graner, accused ringleader in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, on Monday compared piling naked prisoners into pyramids to cheerleader shows and said leashing inmates was also acceptable prisoner control.

Graner's attorney said piling naked prisoners into pyramids and leading them by a leash were acceptable methods of prisoner control. He compared this to pyramids made by cheerleaders at sports events and parents putting tethers on toddlers.

"Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" Guy Womack, Graner's attorney, said in opening arguments to the 10-member U.S. military jury at the reservist's court-martial.

Frederick recounted several occasions on which Graner hit prisoners, including once when he knocked out a man before piling him and others into a naked human pyramid. "He shook his hand and said 'damn, that hurt'," Frederick said.

Pvt. Jeremy Sivits, who is serving a year in prison for his role in the abuse, recalled the same incident. "I told Corp. Graner, 'I think you knocked him out, sir,"' said Sivits, who pleaded guilty at his court martial last year. "He obviously had to hit him pretty hard to knock him out."


Supreme Court Punts

We're still living in a nation that thinks gay couples are somehow intrinsically harmful to children:
The Supreme Court declined today to hear a challenge to Florida's ban on adoption by gay people, the only such state law in the country.

The justices refused without comment to consider an appeal by four Florida men who had argued that the 1977 law violated their rights to equal protection under the United States Constitution, and that it was irrational because it automatically excluded potential adoptive parents for abandoned children.

Child-welfare groups advocates had urged the Supreme Court to take the case. So had the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

In his January 2004 ruling, Judge Birch said the state's primary concern is not those prospective parents who would like to adopt but, rather, the children who are destined for adoption.

"Openly homosexual households represent a very recent phenomenon, and sufficient time has not yet passed to permit any scientific study of how children raised in those households fare as adults," he wrote.


Hazardous to Your Health, Cont'd.

Another assassination:
With three weeks to go before national elections, insurgents intensified their attacks against officials in the interim Iraqi government, Iraqi security forces and election centers.

Baghdad's deputy police chief, Gen. Amer Nayef, and his son, Lt. Taleb Amer -- also a police officer -- were killed by gunmen early Monday as they left their home, a police official told CNN.

The assassinations took place around 7:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. ET Sunday) in the al Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad and the bodies were taken to al Yarmouk hospital. An official with the hospital said they had received the bodies of two individuals with bullet wounds to the head and chest.


American Junta

They're getting ready to set aside the Constitution, you know, just in case:
With no fanfare, the U.S. House has passed a controversial doomsday provision that would allow a handful of lawmakers to run Congress if a terrorist attack or major disaster killed or incapacitated large numbers of congressmen.
``I think (the new rule) is terrible in a whole host of ways - first, I think it's unconstitutional,'' said Norm Ornstein, a counselor to the independent Continuity of Government Commission, a bipartisan panel created to study the issue. ``It's a very foolish thing to do, I believe, and the way in which it was done was more foolish.''
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), one of few lawmakers active on the issue, argued the rule change contradicts the U.S. Constitution, which states that ``a majority of each (House) shall constitute a quorum to do business.
``Changing what constitutes a quorum in this way would allow less than a dozen lawmakers to declare war on another nation,'' Baird said.

Feel safer?


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Axis of Evil?

One would think that corporations that dealt with members of the Axis of Evil would be deemed treasonous and have their corporate charters dissolved. One would be wrong:

U.S. oil services company Halliburton (HAL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , whose operations in Iran have come under investigation by U.S. authorities, has won a tender to drill a huge Iranian gas field, an official said on Sunday.

A U.S. grand jury issued a subpoena to the Texan firm in July, seeking information about its Cayman Islands unit's work in Iran, where it is illegal for U.S. companies to operate.

Halliburton insists it is not illegal for offshore subsidiaries, such as Halliburton Products & Services Limited, to work in the Islamic Republic, where it provides a range of services to the lumbering state oil company.


Go North, Young Man

Yet another Vietnam parallel: Over five thousand soldiers have deserted and headed to Canada:

American Army soldiers are deserting and fleeing to Canada rather than fight in Iraq, rekindling memories of the thousands of draft-dodgers who flooded north to avoid service in Vietnam.

An estimated 5,500 men and women have deserted since the invasion of Iraq, reflecting Washington's growing problems with troop morale.


Eat More Pizza!

In the midst of all the bad news, I thought this newsflash item from Discover's February issue (hard copy, not online) was worth passing on:
People who eat a lot of pizza are less than half as likely to suffer a heart attack as those who nibble only occasionally. Researchers at a Milan, Italy, hospital where the study took place are at a loss to explain the correlation.
Incidentally, if you have even a passing interest in science, I highly recommend Discover. Written for non-scientists, the magazine does not shy away from political topics (like morning-after pills, or February's cover story, "Testing Darwin: Scientists at Michigan State Prove Evolution Works"), has done extensive coverage of the damages of global warming, and the editorial team clearly understands that Bush and his anti-science stance are really, really bad for not only science, but for the world as a whole.

Now go and order yourself a pizza!