Friday, November 11, 2005

I'll Say It Again

The people require books.

Therefore, books shall be provided to the people.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Legacy of "Liberation"

This vile invasion's effects will outlive all of us. And it'll outlive a lot of Iraqis by quite a bit longer:
Derelict factories, military scrapyards and battle sites across Iraq pose a threat to the environment and to public health, the United Nations has said.

The UN Environment Program has trained Iraqi specialists in detoxification, but says any clean-up could cost up to $40m (£23m).

Chemical spills, unsecured hazardous material and widespread pollution by depleted uranium are among the issues.
Among the five sites already probed are a metal plating facility at al-Qadyissa that was bombed, looted and then demolished in 2003.

Several tons of cyanide remain on the site, which is now an unsecured area used as a playground by local children.



Frist just comes right out with it:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves.

Frist told reporters Thursday that while he believed illegal activity should not take place at detention centers, he believes the leak itself poses a greater threat to national security and is "not concerned about what goes on" behind the prison walls.


Cronyism, Cont'd.

The next Michael Brown is already in place:
Meet Stewart Simonson. He's the official charged by Bush with "the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies"--a well-connected, ideological, ambitious Republican with zero public health management or medical expertise, whose previous job was as a corporate lawyer for Amtrak. When Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently speculated, "If something comes along that is truly a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence," many of those professionally concerned with such scenarios couldn't help thinking of Simonson. They recalled his own unsettling words at a recent Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on government response to a chemical or biological attack: "We're learning as we go."
So how is it that Simonson ended up in a position that could impact the lives and health of millions? Simonson's qualifications can be summed up in two words: Tommy Thompson. Simonson was a protégé of the former Health and Human Services secretary and longtime Republican governor of Wisconsin. Thompson hired him out of the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1995 and put him on the political fast track, eventually naming him as his legal counsel. Thompson then used his influence as chair of Amtrak's board to place Simonson as the rail service's corporate counsel. When Bush named Thompson as HHS secretary, Simonson again went with him, and he has been rising through the ranks of the Administration and the Republican Party ever since. "He's a political hack, a sycophant," says Ed Garvey, a prominent Wisconsin attorney and the state's former deputy attorney general. "People just laughed when he was appointed to Amtrak, but when the word came out that he was in charge of bioterrorism, it turned to alarm. When you realize that people's lives are at stake, it's frightening. It's just one of those moments when you say, Oh, my God."


Toxic Bush

Even Santorum is avoiding W these days! Now that is embarrassing:
President Bush will appear at a Veterans Day event in Pennsylvania on Friday with the state's moderate Republican senior senator and a Democratic congressman but without the state's conservative junior senator, who is fighting a tough bid for re-election.

A prior commitment is keeping Sen. Rick Santorum, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, from joining Bush, said Robert Traynham, Santorum's press secretary.


Creative Conservation

Japan is on the cutting edge when it comes to reducing energy consumption:
Furry, heated bras may soon replace lacy lingerie in Japanese women’s wardrobes as the country gets ready for Warm Biz, a nationwide campaign urging workers to bundle up and save energy on heating this winter.

The Warm Biz Bra, unveiled this week by underwear maker Triumph International, is lined with material that emits infrared rays.

The bra is also fitted with pads that can be heated in a microwave or hot water – as well as long, furry straps that wrap around the neck like a scarf and matching shorts.

“Warm Biz lets you add a little fun and chic to office wear, and prevents global warming,” according to the Tokyo-based lingerie company.


Victory, For Now

House leaders late Wednesday abandoned an attempt to push through a hotly contested plan to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling, fearing it would jeopardize approval of a sweeping budget bill Thursday.

They also dropped from the budget document plans to allow states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — regions currently under a drilling moratorium.

The actions were a stunning setback for those who have tried for years to open a coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil development, and a victory for environmentalists, who have lobbied hard against the drilling provisions. President Bush has made drilling in the Alaska refuge his top energy priorities.


Free Books!

And, no, that headline is not just some cheap gimmick designed to get your attention.

In truth, free books are available to the interested, via Miriam's new Bookcrossing addiction; for the details, go read this, which explains it all... then, e-mail her.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A man walks past empty coffins as he waits for the release of his loved ones' body outside the morgue, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005. According to relatives at least seven people were killed Tuesday, when gunmen sprayed the car of Adel al-Zubeidi with bullets, lawyer for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. The shots also wounded Thamir al-Khuzaie, attorney for another co-defendant, Saddam's half brother Barazan Ibrahim.


Just Great

Bush has really done wonders in dealing with this situation, has he not?
North Korea has said it plans to finish building a 50-megawatt nuclear reactor in as little as two years, allowing it to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for 10 weapons annually.

The first public report of an unofficial US delegation that visited Pyongyang in August says that the new reactor would represent a tenfold leap in North Korea's ability to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, which could give it significant leverage in talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear programs.


Happy Anniversary

A garland of flowers runs across a surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall to mark 16 years since the fall of the barrier.


Intelligent Designs

Kansas, of course, is still ridiculous:
Revisiting a topic that exposed Kansas to nationwide ridicule six years ago, the state Board of Education approved science standards for public schools Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

The 6-4 vote was a victory for intelligent design advocates who helped draft the standards.

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, knows what to do with such people:
Voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a statement on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum.

The election unfolded amid a landmark federal trial involving the Dover public schools and the question of whether intelligent design promotes the Bible's view of creation. Eight Dover families sued, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.


Democracy in Action

The real reason why all of Arnold's proposals failed miserably in California's special election:


Homophobia on the March

Even as Texas writes anti-gay bigotry into its constitution, some "Christians" in Indiana are acting out a bit more vividly:
Members of an Indiana church opposed to homosexuality demonstrated on the campus of Indiana University then marched to a Bloomington gay-owned store where they burned the Rainbow flag.
Carrying signs that said "Fags Die, God Laughs" the group of about 25 denounced the university for its LGBT diversity program. The group has held a number of anti-gay protests at UI over the past few years but, the campus newspaper, The Indiana Daily Student, said this was the largest.
Some of the protestors brought children singing hymns.
"The elite city of Bloomington harbors an elitist, faggot business called The Inner Chef which openly and unabashedly claim they are against God Almighty," John Lewis, pastor of the Old Paths church, told the Daily Student. "We burned the flag, and we will do it again."

Damn those elitist faggots! Always lording their culinary prowess over straight folk!



Hardly surprising, really. Once again, Austin is a little blue island in a sea of red:
Texas voters Tuesday overwhelming approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, making their state the 19th to take that step.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Diplomacy, Bush Style

Quit asking me about torture, or I'll hold my breath until I turn blue!


McCain Reconsiders His Stance on Torture

US President George W. Bush (L) and Senator John McCain, R-AZ, pictured March 2005. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he would keep up his campaign for legislation banning the torture of prisoners, despite a veto threat from Bush.



Me too.

Here's this, for a moment's diversion.


A refreshing bit of sanity. Sad that Dr. Wise seems still to be the exception rather than the rule:
Women have been waiting for more than two years for the FDA to grant over-the-counter status to Plan B, Barr Pharmaceuticals' brand of emergency contraception (keyword: emergency). On Aug. 26, in its latest non-move, the FDA -- ignoring recommendations from its own advisory panel in 2003 -- postponed indefinitely a decision on the matter, instead opening a period of "public comment" that ended Nov. 1. On Nov. 3, four frustrated members of Congress attempted an end run around the FDA, introducing a bill in the House that would allow over-the-counter sale of Plan B until the FDA makes a decision. Meanwhile, women have long been left scrambling for prescriptions -- and even for a pharmacy willing to fill them. Fortunately, however, one doctor in New Mexico -- having seen firsthand the vast demand for the medication as well as the roadblocks in its way -- has spent the last five years quietly making sure emergency contraception gets into the hands of women who need it, when they need it.

In 2000, Dr. Matt Wise launched the Web site -- which provides prescriptions for emergency contraception -- as a short-term end run around the obstacles women face who are trying to get the drug. "We thought emergency contraception would be over-the-counter literally within months," he says. He assumed, therefore, that demand for the site's services would be short-lived. Five years later, however, Dr. Wise, 35, a practicing gynecologist by day, still may not be quitting his night job anytime soon.


A Huge Advance in AIDS Testing

Good. Get this test to the US, now:
For the first time, a test is available in Canada that will allow doctors to determine whether a patient is HIV-positive during a visit to the physician's office, clinic or hospital emergency room - avoiding the long wait for outside laboratory testing, its Canadian manufacturer says.

Using just a drop of blood, the Insti HIV test can tell whether a patient has antibodies to the virus that causes AIDS within an average of 60 seconds, said Richard Galli, director of research and development for the product's manufacturer, Biolytical Laboratories of Richmond, B.C.

``It's designed for a point-of-care situation, a one-on-one setting with a patient and their health-care provider,'' Galli said Monday from Richmond.

``The Insti test is designed to be very simple,'' involving a finger stick to draw blood, he said. ``This small droplet of blood from a finger stick is then transferred to a vial that's contained within the Insti test, and from there it's a series of four very short processes to come to the final result.''

The screening test has been shown to be 99.6 per cent accurate in more than 16,000 trials performed on 3,400 people, Galli said, noting that the rate of false positives is about the same as current laboratory tests.


Homophobia at Baylor

Hardly surprising, but no less reprehensible for all that:
Baylor University has told a graduate, who served for five years on the advisory board for its business school, that his no longer welcome after learning that he is gay.

Tim Smith, a 1983 graduate, was one of 36 members of the Hankamer School of Business advisory panel.

In an interview with the Baylor Lariat, Smith says that since graduating from the Baptist school he has personally donated more than $65,000 to Baylor and raised and additional $60,000 to establish an academic scholarship.

Business School Dean Terry Maness asked Smith to step down after he learned of Smith's sexuality.


Defining Indecency, Part Two

They did indeed arrest two women, but what happens next is uncertain:
Police arrested two members of an organization called Breasts Not Bombs after they removed their tops during a protest on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday afternoon.

The women, who were protesting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot measures for today's special election, took off their shirts despite warnings from the California Highway Patrol last week that doing so would lead to their arrests — and possibly their inclusion on the state's list of sex offenders. A federal judge Friday refused to grant a request from Breasts Not Bombs to block the police from arresting topless protesters.

Officials at the Sacramento County district attorney's office said they have not decided whether to prosecute the protesters, and if they do, whether to seek to have them listed as sex offenders.


The Nightmare Continues in New Orleans

Nobody knows how long Deborah "Bodie" Fisher, 85, had been trapped in her home with the corpse of her younger sister, Delia "Sis" Holloway, 82, upstairs, and 2ft of flood water downstairs when help finally floated by on September 2.

It was five days after New Orleans's levees had broken. Bodie waded downstairs to tell the rescuers to leave her alone. "My sister is upstairs," she told them. "Let me die here with my sister." Then she slammed the door and went back in.

The rescuers overruled her. They broke in through an upstairs window, went past Sis's body and let Bodie pack a bag before they took her to the makeshift hospital at New Orleans airport. They said they would come back for her sister.

Two months later two family friends, John Gaines and Stacey Martin, went to the house. Ms Martin used to clean for the women and Mr Gaines thought taking her to the house would give her some closure.

"I left Stacey alone to get her memories," Mr Gaines says. "She went upstairs and after a while she screamed, 'Sis is in here. Sis is in here.' I thought, 'Here we go. She's hallucinating.' So I went upstairs and sure enough, there was Sis."

Two months after she was first seen, Sis's body lay decomposing in a townhouse in the business district. Mr Gaines says she died with one of her feet on the floor, as though she was trying to get out of bed. The foot had rotted from the leg. Someone had covered her body with clothes.

But when Ms Martin tried to remove the clothes, Sis's face started to come off with it. Just as downstairs bears the flood's watermark, so the headboard shows the stain her hair made as it splayed out above her head. "She had no face," Mr Gaines says. "The skin had shrunk right up to the bones on the body and was jet black. All the fluids had run out of her."


RIP John Fowles

I have never yet gotten around to writing about this author's work, though every single thing I have read by him has amazed me in one way or another.

If you haven't yet, go read The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus, A Maggot, The Aristos, and The Collector, not necessarily in that order.