Saturday, June 04, 2005

Now, Here's an Idea

Of course, no one in the United States has milk delivered to their door anymore, so we'd have to adapt the program to make it work. Perhaps the Postal Service should also become the Condom Service?

Sounds like a plan:

In India, where most people get milk delivered to their door, the government has enlisted the help of dairies to distribute condoms.

The idea is being tested in Andhra Pradesh state, in southern India. The region is one of India’s high-risk states for AIDS, and surveys have showed that only 19 per cent of the people use condoms, compared with the national average of 41 per cent.

“One can reach almost 80 per cent of the population every morning through these traditional routes,” the state’s chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy told the Telegraph newspaper.


Energy Independence

Yeah, right.

Just another of Bush's lies:
America's unquenched thirst for gasoline is stretching the nation's refineries to their limits. Even so, no new refineries are likely to be built soon, and that helps ensure that gas prices will stay high as America becomes increasingly dependent on foreign-made gasoline.


Drunks Okay! Gays Need Not Apply.

And not just drunks, but drug users and out-of-shape people are now eligible for military service.

The most fit and noble gay soldier, however, is still going to be shown to the door:
The US military has stopped battalion commanders from dismissing new recruits for drug abuse, alcohol, poor fitness and pregnancy in an attempt to halt the rising attrition rate in an army under growing strain as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Bigotry on the March

Losses in two states. First, the California gay marriage bill is dead, and the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves:
The California Assembly has passed up a chance to make history.

The Assembly narrowly defeated a bill that would have legalized gay marriage in the state. The measure lost by a slim four votes in the 80 seat Assembly.

Even so, nearly a quarter of the Democrats voted with Republicans to reject the bid. It was the second time in two days that the measure was voted down.

Second, Texan governor Goodhair Perry plans to sign off on the gay marriage ban amendment.

On Sunday.

At a Christian School:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday will sign legislation sending to voters this fall a proposed amendment to the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Rather than putting his name to the bill in his office Perry has decided to sign the document at Calvary Christian Academy in Forth Worth.

The decision has angered moderates in the state who say the governor is blurring the line separating church and state.

"As I recall, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, and I wonder how long it will be before people of faith get fed up with opportunistic political campaigning in their houses of worship," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.


Why Nothing Will Be Done

The Republicans profit. The Democrats profit.

And the Indians will yet again be screwed:

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate famously collected $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes and devoted a lot of their time to trying to persuade Republican lawmakers to act on their clients' behalf.

But Abramoff didn't work just with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. Moreover, the campaign contributions that Abramoff directed from the tribes went to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.

Among the biggest beneficiaries were Capitol Hill's most powerful Democrats, including Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.), the top two Senate Democrats at the time, Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), then-leader of the House Democrats, and the two lawmakers in charge of raising funds for their Democratic colleagues in both chambers, according to a Washington Post study. Reid succeeded Daschle as Democratic leader after Daschle lost his Senate seat last November.

Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff's activities and from the embattled lobbyist's former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Yet, many Democratic lawmakers also benefited from Abramoff's political operation, a fact that could hinder the Democrats' efforts to turn the lobbyist's troubles into a winning partisan issue.


Making the World Less Secure

More incompetence in Iraq. No wonder we've been blocking the UN:
U.N. satellite imagery experts have determined that material that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons and banned long-range missiles has been removed from 109 sites in Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors said in a report obtained Thursday.

U.N. inspectors have been blocked from returning to Iraq since the U.S.-led war in 2003 so they have been using satellite photos to see what happened to the sites that were subject to U.N. monitoring because their equipment had both civilian and military uses.


Go Kerry!

I confess myself more than a little surprised by this:
John Kerry announced Thursday that he intends to present Congress with The Downing Street Memo, reported by the London Times 1 May 2005. As reported by NewsMax, the memo purports to include minutes from a July 2002 meeting with Tony Blair, in which Blair ostensibly said that President Bush’s Administration “fixed” intelligence on Iraq in order to justify the Iraqi war. In an interview with the Standard Times, Kerry said: "It's amazing to me the way it escaped major media discussion. It's not being missed on the Internet, I can tell you that."
Failed presidential candidate Kerry advised that he will begin the presentation of his case for President Bush’s impeachment to Congress, on Monday.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

For the Science Geek in All of Us

This is just cool:

Scientists have recreated a vast segment of the universe inside a computer and written a brief history of time, black holes and galaxy formation.

The Millennium Simulation - the biggest exercise of its kind - required 25 million megabytes of memory. But it tracked the 14bn-year history of creation in months and now offers a tool to explore mysterious events in galaxies far away and long ago.

"It is the biggest thing we have ever done," said Carlos Frenk of the University of Durham. "It is probably the biggest thing ever in computational physics. For the first time we have a replica universe which looks just like the real one. So we can now for the first time begin to experiment with the universe."

The simulated universe represents a cube of creation with sides that measure 2bn light years. It is home to 20m galaxies, large and small. It has been designed to answer questions about the past, but it offers the tantalising opportunity to fast-forward in time to the slow death of the galaxies, billions of years from now.


Transgendered People Can't Do Research

At least that's what the Library of Congress seems to think, in an egregious case of bigotry:
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court here today against the Library of Congress on behalf of a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army whose job offer was rescinded after she informed the organization that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female.

"After risking my life for more than 25 years for my country, I’ve been told I’m not worthy of the freedoms I worked so hard to protect," said Diane Schroer. "All I’m asking is to be judged by my abilities rather than my gender."

Schroer, 49, retired from the Army as a Colonel in 2004 after 25 years of distinguished service. As an Airborne Ranger qualified Special Forces officer, Schroer says she completed over 450 parachute jumps, received numerous decorations including the Defense Superior Service Medal, and was hand-picked to head up a classified national security operation.

After leaving the military, Schroer says she confronted feelings she had been dealing with her entire life, and after careful deliberation under the care of a doctor, decided to transition from a man to a woman.

While still presenting as a man, Schroer applied for a position with the Library of Congress as the senior terrorism research analyst. Soon thereafter she was offered the job, which she accepted immediately.

Prior to starting work, Schroer took her future boss to lunch to explain that she was in the process of transitioning and thought it would be easier for everyone if she simply started work presenting as a female. The future boss said nothing at the lunch to suggest that this would be a problem. But the following day, Schroer received a call from the future boss rescinding the offer, telling her that she wasn’t a "good fit" for the Library of Congress.

Simply shameful. And stupid, given her obvious qualifications for the job.


Bush Youth

Words fail me:
A CIA scheme to sponsor trainee spies secretly through US university courses has caused anger among UK academics.

The Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program pays anthropology students, whose names are not disclosed, up to $50,000 (£27,500) a year.

They are expected to use the techniques of "fieldwork" to gather political and cultural details on other countries.

Britain's Association of Social Anthropologists called the scholarships ethically "dangerous" and divisive.
Undergraduates taking part in the scholarship programme must not reveal their funding source and are expected to attend military intelligence summer camps.


AIDS Is Winning

And Bush, inevitably, will do nothing:
Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday warned that the AIDS epidemic is accelerating on every continent and called for more money and leadership to halt its spread by the U.N. target date of 2015.

In an opening address to representatives of 127 countries at a high-level conference, Annan said the scale of the global response to the scourge of AIDS has been significant, but insufficient because "it has not matched the epidemic in scale."

"Last year saw more new infections and more AIDS-related deaths than ever before," he said. "Indeed, HIV and AIDS expanded at an accelerating rate on every continent."


WTF Is Wrong with Kansas?

You can't make this stuff up:
A state senator who once said that giving women the vote was a symptom of weakness in the American family now wants to be Kansas' top elections official.

Sen. Kay O'Connor announced Wednesday that she is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state next year. O'Connor, 63, has served in the Legislature since 1993.

In 2001, O'Connor received national attention for her remarks about the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.

"I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of," she said at the time. "The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family."



As David Brooks discusses how much happier it is to live in forward-looking poor nations and so forth (see previous post), Bob Herbert puts words together in a manner that actually produces meaning:
Now, with George W. Bush in charge, the nation is mired in yet another tragic period marked by incompetence, duplicity, bad faith and outright lies coming once again from the very top of the government. Just last month we had the disclosure of a previously secret British government memorandum that offered further confirmation that the American public and the world were spoon-fed bogus information by the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

President Bush, as we know, wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action. With that in mind, the memo damningly explained, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

That's the kind of deceit that was in play as American men and women were suiting up and marching off to combat at the president's command. Mr. Bush wanted war, and he got it. Many thousands have died as a result.


He Gets Paid for This?

Permit me, if I may, to call bullshit on Brooks's latest pronouncement, freshly pulled from his ass:
Anybody who has lived in Europe knows how delicious European life can be. But it is not the absolute standard of living that determines a people's morale, but the momentum. It is happier to live in a poor country that is moving forward - where expectations are high - than it is to live in an affluent country that is looking back.
It's happier? What the hell does that even mean?



Is it revolution time yet? We have two parties working for the corporations, and the fact that the Democrats sometimes raise the notion that maybe corporations should not be screwing workers quite so hard means that they are being de-funded out of the game?

It's a sorry state of affairs:
After achieving money parity with the GOP in 2004, Democrats have fallen far behind. According to the Federal Election Commission, the DNC raised $14.1 million in the first quarter of 2005, vs. the Republican National Committee's $32.3 million. Dean drew about 20,000 new donors, while his rivals picked up 68,200. The bottom line: Republicans have $26.2 million in the bank vs. $7.2 million for the Dems.


So Much for 9/11

It appears that the expiration date has passed, as far as paying for 9/11. Not, of course, for continuing to exploit 9/11 for political gain:

New York has yet to spend $125 million for workers injured in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath. Tired of waiting, the federal government wants the money back.
Twenty-one lawmakers from the state, including Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, want the White House to redirect the money toward health programs for ground zero workers affected with long-term lung problems that might not appear for years.

So far, the administration has resisted.


More Death in Iraq

At this rate, it will not be long before the death toll since the new "government" was "elected" hits a thousand:
Three suicide car bombings struck within an hour and two parked motorcycles exploded in northern Iraq on Thursday, while gunmen in speeding cars opened fire on a crowded market in Baghdad in a series of attacks that killed at least 34 people.

Continuing violence during the past days also has claimed the lives of three children, a U.S. soldier and a Sunni Muslim cleric, underscoring the rampant, random nature of an insurgency that has killed almost 800 people since the April 28 announcement of Iraq's new Shiite-led government, according to an Associated Press count.


That Funny Smell

The Swiss appear to have uncovered the reason why millions of Americans continue to believe that Bush has all of the answers:
Shakespeare told us to "love all, trust a few," even to "trust none, for oaths are straws." Despite such warnings, trust has always been at the centre of all human dealings -- romantic, commercial, or political -- even if the reasons for it have been murky.

But now Swiss researchers say they have finally isolated the secret: In oxytocin, we trust.

University students who inhaled the hormone in a nasal spray were discovered to be far more trusting of one another -- eager, in fact, to hand over money to strangers in investment deals.


Here's Hoping

I'll be surprised if it passes, but there is a chance:
Same-sex couples are nervously awaiting today's final vote in the California Assembly on legislation that would legalize gay marriage.

Debate on the measure began late Wednesday. An initial vote saw support from 35 of the 80 members, six short of the number needed for passage.

All Republicans in the Assembly, along with a number of Democrats voted against the bill. As the legislation moves today toward the final vote supporters and opponents are frantically trying to muster as much support as they can. Neither side Wednesday night as the chamber adjourned for the evening would predict the outcome today.
UPDATE: No luck today.


Tort "Reform" Based on Lies

No surprise there, if you've been paying attention:
Re-igniting the medical malpractice overhaul debate, a new study by Dartmouth College researchers suggests that huge jury awards and financial settlements for injured patients have not caused the explosive increase in doctors' insurance premiums.

The researchers said a more likely explanation for the escalation is that malpractice insurance companies have raised doctors' premiums to compensate for falling investment returns.

Look at that. The market, rather than "activist judges," is causing the problem? Heaven forfend!

Once again, the Invisible Hand is giving you the finger.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dogs and Cats Sleeping Together!

Careful. Your head might explode:
Last week - after Matrix Media announced a deal for Sharpton to host a "Limbaugh of the Left"-type talk radio show - the conservative radio star said he'll think about mentoring the minister in the finer points of the medium.

Yesterday, Sharpton contacted me to say he's eager to accept the sort-of offer to (as Limbaugh put it on his own show Friday) "let [Sharpton] guest-host the program for, like, 30 minutes at a time while I am sitting here critiquing him."

Sharpton told me: "I was a little surprised, but I'm willing to take him up on his speculative offer. I think it would be interesting. It would be something that both of us can learn from. He can learn some of the thoughts of the left, and I can learn some of the techniques of the right. Let's see if he's serious."

Yesterday Limbaugh's producer, Kit Carson, assured me that he's in earnest.


Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan, our grand "success"?
A bombing at a mosque in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, killed at least 20 people and left dozens more injured today.

The blast happened during the funeral of Mullah Abdul Fayaz, a cleric who had spoken out against the Taliban. Local officials said it was a suicide attack - the first one on a mosque in Afghanistan.


More Southern Bigotry

Simply disgusting:
After rejecting the idea last month, the Georgia Board of Education has revived a proposal that could force LGBT students to come out to their parents in order to join gay support groups.

The proposal would require parental permission for students to participate in any extracurricular activity.

It does not specifically name LGBT clubs, but its intent is clear say LGBT activists in the state.

The plan was put forward in March (story) by Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox after being requested by lawmakers who have tried for several years to squelch gay student support groups in Georgia high schools. But, a month later, it was rejected by the board. (story)

Now, under renewed pressure from a group of legislators the idea is back. The board will vote on it June 14.


Human Trafficking

Just when you thought American techniques in the so-called "War on Terror" had become as utterly vile as they could possibly be, there's this. Not only has due process gone out the window; now, we're buying people after bombing them to hell:
They fed them well. The Pakistani tribesmen slaughtered a sheep in honor of their guests, Arabs and Chinese Muslims famished from fleeing U.S. bombing in the Afghan mountains. But their hosts had ulterior motives: to sell them to the Americans, said the men who are now prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Bounties ranged from $3,000 to $25,000, the detainees testified during military tribunals, according to transcripts the U.S. government gave The Associated Press to comply with a Freedom of Information lawsuit.


DeLay: Mars, Bitches!

In a phenomenal display of escapism, DeLay looks to the heavens:
NASA's new administrator and Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay said Tuesday the space agency will have the necessary funding to implement President Bush's vision to send astronauts back to the moon and to Mars.


Monday, May 30, 2005


You tell me which is more offensive, the reality of American forces illegally detaining and mistreating prisoners, or the report that American forces are doing so:
Vice President Dick Cheney says he's offended by a human rights group's report criticizing conditions at the prison camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

The report Amnesty International released last week said prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba had been mistreated and called for the prison to be shut down. Cheney derided the London-based group in an interview set to be broadcast Monday night on CNN's Larry King Live.

"Frankly, I was offended by it," Cheney said in the videotaped interview. "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."

Cheney is the latest Bush administration official to object to the report. On Sunday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers called the Amnesty International report "absolutely irresponsible."

My heart bleeds for the offended Cheney.


Monday German Cat Blogging



And so on Thursday, I think, we arose and headed to the train that would take us to the train that would take us to train that would take us to the small German town just outside Berlin, and just adjacent to the forced-labor concentration camp at Sachsenhausen.

I found it deeply ironic that the train lines stopped just shy of the camp, forcing visitors to detrain and seek the bus for the last few kilometers to the camp itself.

And the bus only runs once an hour. We missed the one we needed to take, in order to make it to the camp in time for the English-language guided tour run by our friend Anja, with whom we in fact stayed for our entire week-and-a-half stint in Berlin. And the helpful woman at the little café we stopped off at told us the camp was twenty minutes at a slow walk.

After ten minutes, we saw a sign that indicated 2.5 more km to go. And did I mention that my shoes had pretty much crapped out on me two days before, leaving me with bleeding blisters?

So, a fun walk…

And how ridiculous and pathetic is it to complain about a blister or two, and about a walk of a couple of miles, to go to a concentration camp? Quite.

At any rate, Sachsenhausen is yet another fascinating glimpse into a history that cries out to be forgotten and to be remembered. And walking there, however hastily, was a good thing, as it makes you wonder: What must it be like to live in a house half a block from a concentration camp? And to know that the previous occupant likely worked there, working prisoners to death?

Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp, and a death camp, but not an extermination camp. It was a place in which prisoners were forced to work—“Arbeit Macht Frei,” nicht wahr?—and in which the techniques later applied in the death camps were tested and refined.

A fact I did not know, but which I learned: Jews with artistic talent were put to work in Sachsenhausen forging millions of pounds’ worth of British bank notes, in order to destabilize the currency.

Sachsenhausen is a camp that is located in what became East Germany, and thus the memorial erected there focuses on the Communist anti-fascists, who are largely ignored by West German memorials. Books have been written about this phenomenon, but to see the Western willful ignorance of politics and the Soviet willful ignorance of race so intimately juxtaposed is striking. The museum established by the DDR in one of the barracks buildings is still there, as built by the Communists, for now. But Anja says that this display is a thorn in the side of the director, who wants to see it dismantled.

An interesting move in a place devoted to the mission of remembering history.


Art Mirrors Life

I just wanted to mention a story my wife read in Der Spiegel (I believe) about the final episode of the long-running, most-popular soap opera in Iraq, called Love and War.

This final episode involved, of course, the two main characters finally managing to wed after all the cliche obstacles. What is striking is that their blissful marriage lasts only a few minutes, as the series ends with their honeymoon car being shredded by a roadside bomb.

Such is the political imaginary in today's Iraq, and no wonder.


Farewell to Berlin

The final days in Berlin continued to provide the variety of emotions I’d come to expect.

On Tuesday, as noted, we went to the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind to resemble a fragmented Star of David, reassembled as a twisted lightning bolt in the heart of Berlin. Libeskind is remarkable for the radical nature of his designs, and for the fact that almost none of them were ever actually built. Happily, the Jewish Museum is an exception to that latter fact and not the former.

The structure is shot through with diagonal scars of windows, and the floors, ceilings, and walls are frequently not quite square.

Even still, the architecture is never permitted to overwhelm the point of the museum; everywhere you turn, you are confronted with the realities of the suffering and death, and of the ingenuity, compassion, and humanity, of Jews in Germany.

I’d be tempted to call this place the perfect museum, from a design point of view. Those interested in the design of museums try to take into account the various types of people who will come in—those who run through, those who dawdle, and those who truly linger and study—and the Jewish Museum is, as far as I could tell, successful for all. If you are pressed for time, and must hurry along, there are plenty of exhibits to grab your attention as you do so. At the same time, I know that I could go back there every day for weeks on end and learn a new story or fact every single time.

And all of these materials are gathered into a space that purposefully includes “voids.” Libeskind wanted to be sure we all remember that we cannot re-member the horrors enacted upon Jews in any full or final sense.

Perhaps the most intense moment for me came early on, in a dead-end side-room which was also a sculpture. There was a plaque, saying: “The artist asks that you walk upon his sculpture,” and then a long, narrow hall, with towering, stark walls. The floor was covered with heavy metal disks made to resemble faces with expressions of horror, and it was upon these that you walked. As we did so, the clanking noises reverberated up the tall blank walls. I defy anyone to walk the forty or so feet to the end of the room, and back, and not shed tears…

This place deserves a post of its own, so I’ll stop here, and continue to catch up later.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Home Again

I am back in Austin, in case anyone out there is wondering. I'll soon post an update about the last few days in Berlin, which involved the Jewish Museum, a forced-labor concentration camp just outside of Berlin, the Pergamon Museum, and miniature golf. Plus more Havana Club...