Saturday, January 07, 2006

Surprise! More Bush Negligence

If only the media had spent a little less time asking the miners' families "How does it feel" questions, and a little more time investigating the causes of this disaster, I might have a tad more respect for them as journalists. The causes are many, of course, but the most significant from the standpoint of what is to be done, is governmental laxity:
Since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed, a Knight Ridder Newspapers investigation has found.

At one point last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company a scant $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation that ended in the death of a Kentucky man. The firm, International Coal Group Inc., is the same company that owns the Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 workers died earlier this week.

The $440 fine remains unpaid.


Friday, January 06, 2006

"Ethically Problematic"

As with so many Bush administration initiatives, the efficacy approaches zero:
The Society of Adolescent Medicine, in one of the most exhaustive reviews to date of government-funded abstinence-only programs, has rejected current administration policy that promotes abstinence as the only sexual health prevention strategy for young people in the United States and abroad.

"We believe that current federal abstinence-only-until- marriage policy is ethically problematic, as it excludes accurate information about contraception, misinforms by overemphasizing or misstating the risks of contraception, and fails to require the use of scientifically accurate information while promoting approaches of questionable value," the report concludes.

"Based on our review of the evaluations of specific abstinence-only curricula and research on virginity pledges, user failure with abstinence appears to be very high. Thus, although theoretically completely effective in preventing pregnancy, in actual practice the efficacy of abstinence-only interventions may approach zero."


Save Money. Let 'em Die.

Pure evil:
A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.



You've been waiting for it. Admit it.


The War in Iraq Is Working...

just as bin Laden had hoped it would. Recruitment drives are underway, worldwide:
SYDNEY supporters of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have tried to encourage Australian Muslims to join the insurgency and donate money to the cause.
"They said come and fight with the mujahideen," said someone present at the incident.
Another man of Iraqi descent said he had been asked to give money to the insurgents. "I know for a fact that they are raising money. I was sitting in a group when someone approached me and said they were raising money for the freedom fighters in Iraq," he said.

He said that the money was distributed to supporters of Zarqawi through a circuitous route, often disguised as payments to family members back in Iraq.


Bastard Out of Indiana

Fortunately, the governor foresees little chance of this bill succeeding:
A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill to make abortion illegal in Indiana, saying if it became law, it could ultimately be a vehicle to get the U.S. Supreme Court with new members to overturn abortion rights.
The bill by Rep. Troy Woodruff of Vincennes would change Indiana's feticide law to make it a Class C felony, punishable with a two- to eight-year prison sentence, to perform an abortion. The only exception would be when carrying a pregnancy to term would pose a "substantial permanent impairment of the life or physical health of the pregnant woman."

Woodruff said he filed the bill Wednesday in part because there will be a new U.S. Supreme Court and a state must pass a law and then appeal it to the highest court to see if the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling would stand.


Drunken Bush-Speak

Bush is apparently giving another "major speech" on education right now, and while I'm away from television access, several people have been liveblogging snippets on the internets (and opining that he looks and sounds drunk), which I will share here:
I appreciate all the Ambassadors who are here. I'm scanning the room. I see a few familiar faces, and thanks for serving. What the heck are you doing here? Like, you're supposed to be -- (laughter.) The deal was overseas. (Laughter.)
Our ideology is a heck of a lot more hopeful than theirs.

You can't have an ideology that works if you say to half the population in a part of the world, you have no rights. You can't say to a group of people, my ideology is better than freedom, and if you speak out you're going to get -- you'll be tortured.
You see, we got to convince people of the benefits of a free society. I believe everybody desires to be free. But I also know people need to be convincing -- convinced -- I told you I needed to go to language school.
We've got to be unyielding and never give them a, you know, a breath of fresh air, never give them a hope that they can succeed.
But we need people in America who can go and say to people, living in freedom is not the American way of life, it is a universal way of life. We're not saying your democracy has to be like yours.
When somebody comes to me and speaks Texan, I know they appreciate the Texas culture.
And when Americans learn to speak a language, learn to speak Arabic, those in the Arabic region will say, gosh, America is interested in us.
But we're also going to advance America's interests around the world and defeat this notion about our -- you know, our bullying concept of freedom by letting people see what we're about.
One of the stories I like to share with people is this. I -- one of my best buddies in international politics is Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. He's an interesting person. Elvis was his favorite singer, for example.

In the words of Holden of first-draft: "Honestly. Dude is fucked up."

If anyone can explain how any of these statements actually means anything at all, then he or she will gain the people's ovation and fame forever.


Honorable Discharge for Bashed Soldier

The best outcome of a horrible situation, I'd say:
A 19-year old Army Private who was beaten by one soldier and threatened by another after they learned he is gay has been discharged.

Private Kyle Lawson was punched in the face by a fellow member of a training unit at Fort Huachuca at an off-post party in October after a friend let it slip that Lawson was gay.

The soldier accused of hitting Lawson told police that Lawson made sexually suggestive remarks. But the Sierra Vista police officer who investigated the case said "there was no provocation."
Thursday night he left the military with an honorable discharge, a suggestion that military police agreed with local authorities that the attack on him had been unprovoked.

The discharge papers contain space for illegal or problematic behavior to be noted. Each of those spaces in Lawson's paperwork contains the word "none."

"It's bittersweet," Lawson said of his departure from the military. "On one hand, it will be better for me because I can be who I am. But I'm going to miss it a lot. I really loved it," he told the Arizona Daily Star.

This, of course, is still absolute bullshit:
Police charged Private Zacharias Pierre with felony aggravated assault - a charge that draws an average 3 1/2 years in prison upon conviction in Arizona, more if a judge finds the crime was hate-based.

Using military regulations officials at Fort Huachuca took control of the case, dropping the charges laid by Sierra Vista police. They have refused to say if any appropriate action has been taken to hold his attacker accountable but media reports indicate that Pierre has received only a slap on the wrist - the withdrawal of a weekend pass.

Bash a gay, lose your pass. Justice.


Father of the Cultural Revolution Dies

Yao Wenyuan, dead of diabetes at age 74:
While Mao was the guiding force behind the Cultural Revolution, the present Chinese authorities have found it convenient to blame the upheaval of that episode on the Gang of Four, who directed the purge of moderate party officials and intellectuals.

The Gang of Four consisted of Mao’s third wife, Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan.

Described as “the killer with pen”, Yao was the group's propagandist and Xinhua, the official news agency, today reported that he had died of diabetes, at the age of 74, on December 23. He was the last survivor of the quartet, and deserves more than a footnote in the history books.

A former propaganda official and Shanghai journalist, Yao wrote the article in 1966 that signalled the start of the Cultural Revolution. During the revolution, hundreds of thousands of people died, many of them committing suicide after being harassed by Mao’s Red Guards, the shock troops of the revolution.
As it happens, this year marks the 30th anniversary of Mao’s death. It will be interesting to see whether the authorities will allow a thorough and extensive re-examination of a period that traumatised China.


Sorry, Jeb

Vouchers are (surprise surprise!) unconstitutional:
The Florida Supreme Court knocked the wind out of Gov. Jeb Bush's education revamp Thursday, ruling that the private-school voucher program violates the state Constitution's promise of a "uniform system of free public schools."

Watched nationwide, the 5-2 decision topples Opportunity Scholarships, the only statewide voucher program in the country. It also raises doubts about two related voucher programs.


Reports from the Front Lines

Samurai Sam informs me of a series of brutal reports on the state of New Orleans by The Rude Pundit, who spent several days there very recently.

Read all of them.


Off to a Running Start

Music for the ages:
A new chord was scheduled to sound in the world's slowest and longest lasting concert that is taking a total 639 years to perform.

The abandoned Buchardi church in Halberstadt, eastern Germany, is the venue for a mind-boggling 639-year-long performance of a piece of music by US experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992).

Entitled "organ2/ASLSP" (or "As SLow aS Possible"), the performance began on September 5, 2001 and is scheduled to last until 2639.

The first year and half of the performance was total silence, with the first chord -- G-sharp, B and G-sharp -- not sounding until February 2, 2003.

Then in July 2004, two additional Es, an octave apart, were sounded and are scheduled to be released later this year on May 5.

But at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Thursday, the first chord was due to progress to a second -- comprising A, C and F-sharp -- and is to be held down over the next few years by weights on an organ being built especially for the project.



Frankly, I'm rather surprised DeLay has managed to maintain any hopes of holding onto power for this long, but his attempts to bully the Texas court system have finally failed, it would seem:
An internal battle is underway among House Republicans to permanently replace Rep. Tom DeLay (Tex.) as majority leader and put in place a new leadership lineup that is better equipped to deal with the growing corruption scandal.

Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (Mo.) will ask House Republicans to make his temporary tenure permanent early next month if, as is likely, DeLay is unable to clear his name in the gathering corruption and campaign finance scandals, according to a member of the GOP leadership and several leadership aides.

The move would almost certainly touch off a GOP power struggle between Blunt, whose rise to power was heavily aided by DeLay and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John A. Boehner (Ohio), a former House leader who has been maneuvering for a comeback.


Because Alcoholics Only Drink Cold Beer

And because one beer equals drunk driving.

The logic is impeccable:
Under a bill by Sen. Bill Alter, grocery and convenience stores would risk losing their liquor licenses if they sold beer colder than 60 degrees. The intent is to cut down on drunken driving by making it less tempting to pop open a beer after leaving the store.

“The only reason why beer would need to be cold is so that it can be consumed right away,” Alter, who has been a police offer for more than 20 years, said Thursday.

He said the idea came from a fifth-grade student in Jefferson County who was participating in a program to teach elementary students about state government. He sought their suggestions for new laws and chose the cold beer ban from a list of the top three ideas.

Via Raw Story.


9th Ward Standoff

Sadly, this sort of situation was likely inevitable and will almost certainly recur:
Angry residents and protesters in New Orleans' devastated Lower 9th Ward clashed with workers who were using bulldozers to clear debris from a sidewalk Thursday.

The residents, some of whom are part of a class-action lawsuit against the city's plan to demolish at least 120 homes in the neighborhood, said the city was violating an injunction to halt any demolition until the suit is heard in court.


Wal-Mart Update

I just received the following statement from Wal-Mart in regard to this story posted yesterday:


We are heartsick that this happened and are currently doing everything possible to correct the problem. The offensive combinations that have been identified will be removed from the site by 5:30 CT today. However, with thousands of movie items available, there is an almost endless number of possible combinations. Because of that, we will be shutting down our entire movie cross-selling system until the problem is resolved.

We are deeply sorry that this happened.

Our system, like those of most other on-line buying sites, refers buyers interested in a particular movie to other movies through a technical process known as "mapping."'s item mapping process does not work correctly and at this point is mapping seemingly random combinations of titles. We were horrified to discover that some hurtful and offensive combinations are being mapped together.

To further illustrate the bizarre nature of this technical issue, the site is also mapping movies such as Home Alone and Power Puff Girls to African American literature. (emphasis added)

John Aravosis of AmericaBLOG (cited in the e-mail to me from Wal-Mart) believes this explanation and considers it "ridiculous" to think that this incident is indicative of anything other than a technical glitch.

However, if this was merely an accident, then the response time on Wal-Mart's part was remarkably quick.

Further, how can one explain away a list of four out of four African-American films, out of "an almost endless number of possible combinations" as "seemingly random"? Sorry, but that does not seem at all random to me. What are the odds?

Steve Gilliard's explanation makes much more sense than John's or Wal-Mart's:
This is a cultural issue, and Wal Mart's culture doesn't value blacks. It may have started out as an internal joke, but it ended up online and no one corrected it.

But their admission makes it clear this was no accident. As does the speed of their response. Given their database, the ONLY way those movies could come up is on purpose. There is no accident in this, none.

If you check Amazon and Netflix, there is no such correleation. What you get is more Planet of the Apes films. No Martin Luther King or Tina Turner.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Robertson Better Watch Himself

Odd that he's saying such things even as he leads a coalition to set up a Jesus theme park on a chunk of land carved out of Israel and given to them by the government free of charge.

Talk about dividing up the land! Will Robertson fall just as he cuts the ribbon with large novelty scissors?
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested today that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."

"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said on his TV program "The 700 Club." "You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No, this is mine.'"


Wal-Mart's Racism Displayed

Via Jane, pointed out by Holden, Wal-Mart's "similar titles" when one pulls up Planet of the Apes include biographies of Dorothy Dandridge and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In fact all the similar titles happen, just happen to be about African Americans.


UPDATE: In the interim, Wal-Mart has changed the list, which now includes Star Wars, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond.

A bit of mad scramble there, ey?

(And for doubters, The Wordy Bird fortunately has the racist screenshots from earlier.)



Good job:
Edward Allen's reaction to being on the government's "no-fly" list should have been the tip-off that he is no terrorist.

"I don't want to be on the list. I want to fly and see my grandma," the 4-year-old boy said, according to his mother.


If Anyone Can Do It, Jon Can

And by "it," I mean of course "make the Oscars interesting."
And the 2006 Oscar Awards go to...Jon Stewart.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced Thursday that the annual Hollywood celebration of cinema excellence--or sometimes, popularity--will be hosted by none other than the standup comic turned snide commentator.


The Kids Are All Right

More evidence that gay marriage really is a generational issue; time is on our side:
A national poll of high school seniors shows that young people are twice as likely as adults to support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Three-quarters of the high school seniors throughout the country favor the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, either as marriage or civil union.


Hazardous Duty Pay

Journalists in Iraq deserve it. This statistic is absolutely amazing:
More journalists and media staffers have been killed during the Iraq war than during 22 years of conflict in Vietnam, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.

Worldwide, at least 63 journalists were killed last year, the press freedom group said in its annual report. That was up from at least 53 killed in 2004, the group said.

Earlier this week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 47 reporters were killed in 2005. The group said the discrepancy resulted from its standards for determining who was a journalist and whether someone died as a result of working as a reporter.
A total of 76 journalists and media staff have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the group said. That was more than the 63 reporters killed in the 1955-1977 conflict in Vietnam, the group said, citing figures from U.S.-based press advocacy group Freedom Forum.


The US: Iran's Greatest Benefactor

According to a new, lengthy article in The Guardian, CIA blunders handed the Iranians not only complete knowledge of all of our spies in Iran, but also detailed blueprints for building nuclear weaponry.

Well done.


Is This in Revelation?

A Jesus theme park in Israel. Oh lordy:
The Israeli government is planning to give up a large slice of land to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

A consortium of Christian groups, led by the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is in negotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and a deal is expected in the coming months. The project is expected to bring up to 1 million extra tourists a year but an undeclared benefit will be the cementing of a political alliance between the Israeli rightwing and the American Christian right.

However, the alliance has not been welcomed by all Israelis, including some who fear the ultimate aim of the evangelicals is the conversion of the Jews to Christianity rather than support for Israel.


Bloody Thursday

Not what victory looks like:
Suicide bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims in the south and police recruits in central
Iraq, and a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers, bringing Thursday's death toll to at least 110 people in a series of attacks as politicians tried to form a coalition government.


Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Oklahoma


An executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention was arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a male plainclothes policeman outside a hotel, police said.

Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, was booked into Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday night on a misdemeanor charge of offering to engage in an act of lewdness, police Capt. Jeffrey Becker said. Latham was released on $500 bail Wednesday afternoon.

Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was arrested and his 2005 Mercedes automobile was impounded, Becker said.

He has also spoken out against same-sex marriage and in support of a Southern Baptist Convention directive urging its 42,000 churches to befriend gays and lesbians and try to convince them that they can become heterosexual "if they accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their 'sinful, destructive lifestyle."


Victory in Oklahoma

The notion that permitting gay marriage would hurt the reputation of the Cherokee Nation is just sad. I'd say the zealous persecution of this couple is rather more damaging than simply letting them be:
The Judicial Appeals Tribunal of the Cherokee Nation, the highest Cherokee court, has rejected an attempt by several tribal council members to invalidate the marriage of a Cherokee lesbian couple.

The Court held that the council members, who are the legislative branch of the Cherokee Nation, had no standing to seek a court order invalidating the marriage of Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley because the council members could not show that they were individually harmed or affected by the marriage.

The Court rejected the council members’ argument that permitting the marriage to stand would injure “the reputation” of the Cherokee Nation.

"We are relieved by the Court’s ruling,” Reynolds said on Wednesday. “Dawn and I are private people, and we simply wish to live our lives in peace and quiet, just as other married couples are permitted to do."


Transparent Government

I am so relieved to see that justice is being done. Unconstitutional spying on Americans is being investigated. By a secret court. That will review classified files.

Woo hoo:
The members of a secret federal court that oversees government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases are scheduled to receive a classified briefing Monday from top Justice Department and intelligence officials about a controversial warrantless-eavesdropping program, according to sources familiar with the arrangements.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Orleans Going to the Puppies

This is a result of Katrina that hadn't occurred to me:
Puppies are popping up everywhere amid the rubble left by Hurricane Katrina -- and animal welfare workers on the northern Gulf Coast fear it is only the start of a big boom in dog births.

Officials say more than 6,000 pets were saved after Katrina came ashore August 29, and many of them were relocated to homes elsewhere in the country. An unknown number drowned in the floodwaters or died later of injuries.

But thousands of animals remain, running loose in neighborhoods where fences were flattened and many owners are gone.

"I've never seen so many puppies in my life," said Manny Maciel, an animal control officer from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who made two trips to help trap loose dogs and cats in New Orleans and Mississippi.


The Gay Conspiracy at Work

New Jersey has its first gay mayor, a gay man was returned to the mayor's chair in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a prominent lesbian became Speaker of the NYC Council, while in Arizona a lesbian joined the state Senate - all in all it has been a good week for LGBT politicians.


Less Than Full Access

Deutsche Welle visits the Orwellian world of Guantanamo:
The Caribbean -- and tropical paradise -- is only a few hours away from Fort Lauderdale by plane -- as is the nightmare that is Guantanamo. What else can you call a barbed wire prison camp in which detainees have been held for years without charges? A gulag of our times, Amnesty International says. The best recruiting tool for al Qaeda, says the New York Times. What happens in the camp at Guantanamo Bay?

The US military gave Deutsche Welle permission to visit the camp and to film there for three days. The rules were clear: we can film, but the military reserves the right to view all of our material and -- for "security" reasons -- censor it.

A military escort awaits me when I land in Cuba. From now on I'm in the care of soldiers from the press office from morning until night. I don't leave their sight until I get on the plane back to Fort Lauderdale.
Before going to the prison camp, I'm presented with the most important facts and numbers: the intelligence services view 16 percent of the prisoners as very important, and they are held in a special high security facility. Six to eight percent of the prisoners are treated for mental illness.
They tell me about the curiosities of Guantanamo. And about the Chinese.
The US arrested some Chinese men, and now they'd like to get rid of them. Only, they don't know how. The men are ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority from China's far northwest which does brisk trade in the region bordering on Pakistan. They were picked up in the war against terror and brought to Guantanamo. The men pose no threat to the US. But they can't be deported, because China is afraid of Uighur separatists, and Guantanamo is a problematic point on a person's resume. "China would make organ donors out of them," said my escort. The Uighurs still live at Guantanamo.
There's no way to investigate whether people were tortured here. I'm not allowed to talk to prisoners. Even the talks with the guards take place under supervision. A woman from "Operative Security" is continually present, and my interview partner's eyes keep wandering back and forth to make sure the censor approves.


Strange Karma

A new twist on an old tragedy:
Palestinian gunmen who burst into a house, apparently to kidnap the parents of Rachel Corrie, left without them after learning their daughter was the woman killed in 2003 as she protested the demolition of a house in the southern Gaza town, according to their host.


High Damn Time

Molly Ivins:
2006 makes the ninth year in a row the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour. It's bad economics, it's bad policy, it's stupid, it's unfair, and it's high damn time to do something about it. It is also, as Sen. Edward Kennedy says, a moral issue.


So Long, Habeas Corpus, Nice Knowing You

Depressing morning:
The Justice Department will seek dismissal of lawsuits from more than 300 Guantanamo Bay detainees fighting the legality of their confinement, using a new law that the Bush administration says sharply limits existing challenges. Advocates for detainees quickly registered their opposition Tuesday.

The measure, part of the Defense Appropriations Act that President Bush signed last week, was intended to allow detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba to appeal their detention status and punishments to a federal appeals court in Washington.

That avenue replaces the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions _ the right to file habeas corpus lawsuits, which demand that the government justify someone's continued imprisonment, in any federal court.


Bush Signs with a Wink and a Smirk

Well, we've always known that he prefers to be a dictator rather than a president:
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Some Recompense for Abused Native People

Not, of course, in the United States:
They were plucked from their families as young children and sent to live in church-run schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages. The idea was to prepare indigenous children for life in white society.

Many were beaten, sexually abused and subjected to daily cruelties throughout their traumatic childhoods. It was, in the words of Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, "the single most disgraceful, harmful and racist act" in Canada's history.

Now Mr Fontaine has grounds for optimism. Late last year, on the eve of a federal election, Ottawa announced a $2bn (£1bn) legal settlement for the estimated 80,000 indigenous people who were forced to attend residential schools.

The proposed settlement would offer students $10,000 each, plus $3,000 for each year they spent at one of the 130 schools. In exchange, they would have to agree not to sue the federal government or the churches for damages.

A $60m truth and reconciliation fund will be used to build public awareness of what happened at the residential schools and their legacy, which includes lives destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse and violence. Most of the schools were closed by the 70s, having inflicted serious emotional damage on an entire generation and their families.


The Case against Jesus

AN ITALIAN judge has ordered a priest to appear in court this month to prove that Jesus Christ existed.

The case against Father Enrico Righi has been brought in the town of Viterbo, north of Rome, by Luigi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist.

Signor Cascioli, author of a book called The Fable of Christ, began legal proceedings against Father Righi three years ago after the priest denounced Signor Cascioli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ’s historical existence.

Yesterday Gaetano Mautone, a judge in Viterbo, set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. The judge had earlier refused to take up the case, but was overruled last month by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was “abusing popular credulity”.

Signor Cascioli’s contention — echoed in numerous atheist books and internet sites — is that there was no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died in 1st-century Palestine apart from the Gospel accounts, which Christians took on faith. There is therefore no basis for Christianity, he claims.

Signor Cascioli’s one-man campaign came to a head at a court hearing last April when he lodged his accusations of “abuse of popular credulity” and “impersonation”, both offences under the Italian penal code. He argued that all claims for the existence of Jesus from sources other than the Bible stem from authors who lived “after the time of the hypothetical Jesus” and were therefore not reliable witnesses.

Signor Cascioli maintains that early Christian writers confused Jesus with John of Gamala, an anti-Roman Jewish insurgent in 1st-century Palestine. Church authorities were therefore guilty of “substitution of persons”.


Winning the War

That's what we're doing:
A U.S. air strike killed several members of a family in the oil refining town of Baiji in northern Iraq, Iraqi security forces said on Tuesday.
Local people at the scene of the blast said seven bodies were recovered from the rubble, including at least two children.


Good Intentions...

But this idea is blatantly discriminatory and will not do much towards its apparent end:
Under a new law that went into effect this week the state of Baden-Württemberg is requiring that Muslims applying to become German citizens take a cultural test to determine if they "are suitable".

The test will seek their views on homosexuality and other issues such as bigamy and women's rights. The exam will be on top of a federal test which includes language proficiency skills and a general knowledge of the country.

Prospective citizens must have resided in Germany for at least eight years and have no criminal record.

State officials said that the test will gauge an applicants "loyalty to German values".
Critics say that the test is biased and discriminatory because it is applied only to Muslims. They say that if a test is to be given it should be administered to any applicant for citizenship.


Intelligent Patriotism

Murtha continues to show how it's done:
Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today.

A decorated Vietnam combat veteran who retired as a colonel after 37 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Murtha told ABC News' "Nightline" program that Iraq "absolutely" was a wrong war for President George W. Bush to have launched.

"Would you join (the military) today?," he was asked in an interview taped on Friday.

"No," replied Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending and one of his party's leading spokesmen on military issues.

"And I think you're saying the average guy out there who's considering recruitment is justified in saying 'I don't want to serve'," the interviewer continued.

"Exactly right," said Murtha, who drew White House ire in November after becoming the first ranking Democrat to push for a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as it could be done safely.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Shut Up and Serve

Signing up means forfeiting freedom of speech:
Letters home filled with tales of death and danger, bravery and boredom are a wartime certainty.

And now, as hundreds of soldiers overseas have started keeping Internet journals about the heat, the homesickness, the bloodshed, word speeds from the battlefront faster than ever.

More and more, though, U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are clamping down on these military Web logs, known as milblogs.

After all, digital photos of blown-up tanks and gritty comments on urban warfare don't just interest mom and dad.
Nowadays, milbloggers "get shut down almost as fast as they're set up," said New York Army National Guard Spc. Jason Christopher Hartley, 31, of upstate New Paltz, who believes something is lost as the grunt's-eye take on Tikrit or Kabul is silenced or sanitized.

Hartley last January was among the first active-duty combat troops demoted and fined for security violations on his blog,


Stem Cell Research Advances

Some good news:
Scientists have created human stem cell cultures without using any animal cells for the first time. The breakthrough will bring possible treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's a step closer.
Some scientists argue that this method of growing cells has inherent problems: viruses from the animal cells, for example, may be taken up by the human cells and could infect patients. "All of the concerns about contaminating proteins in existing stem cell lines can essentially be removed using this medium," said Tenneille Ludwig, a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist working at WiCell, the company which led the effort to develop the new culture medium. "This work helps us clear some of the major hurdles for using these cells therapeutically."


Happy "New" Year

Same as the old year:
A suicide car bomber today targeted a bus carrying police recruits to Baghdad, killing seven people, police said.

At least three recruits died in the car bombing, but officials were unable to immediately identify whether the other four victims were recruits or civilians.
Elsewhere in the capital, gunmen in two cars opened fire on a group of labourers, killing five, Captain Qasim Hussein, of Baghdad police, said. Gunmen clashed with police in the west of the city, killing three policemen and wounding two, Major Moussa Abdul Karim said.

Police also found the bodies of eight civilian men who had been handcuffed, shot and dumped at a sewage plant in south-east Baghdad. The body of a policeman, who had been shot in the head, was found in western Baghdad.


Venezuelan Socialism Proceeds

The new year brings nationalization:
Thirty-two privately operated Venezuelan oilfields returned to state control Sunday with the start of the new year, the government said.

At midnight Dec. 31, a deadline expired for all private companies with contracts to independently pump oil to agree to joint ventures that will give Venezuela's state oil company majority control.

The 32 operating agreements were signed between 1990 and 1997, when Venezuela's petroleum industry was open to private and foreign capital.


What Would Your Cat Do?

I don't know, but I doubt it would be this:
Police aren't sure how else to explain it. But when an officer walked into an apartment Thursday night to answer a 911 call, an orange-and-tan striped cat was lying by a telephone on the living room floor. The cat's owner, Gary Rosheisen, was on the ground near his bed having fallen out of his wheelchair.

Rosheisen said his cat, Tommy, must have hit the right buttons to call 911.

"I know it sounds kind of weird," Officer Patrick Daugherty said, unsuccessfully searching for some other explanation.

Rosheisen said he couldn't get up because of pain from osteoporosis and ministrokes that disrupt his balance. He also wasn't wearing his medical-alert necklace and couldn't reach a cord above his pillow that alerts paramedics that he needs help.


Infuriating Idiocy

I continue to fail to see how any soldier, anywhere, can stand this man, who repeatedly trivializes who they are and what they do (and who apparently believes that soldiers' wounds are inflicted at the hospital):

President Bush began the new year on Sunday at the bedsides of wounded servicemen and women, and awarded nine Purple Hearts to U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president had a two-inch scratch across the left side of his brow.

"As you can probably see I was injured myself, not here at the hospital but in combat with a cedar," Bush quipped. "I eventually won."


Sweet Victory

Iraq may still be a mess, but at least we had a clean, conclusive victory in Afghanistan, right?
BRITISH troops set to deploy to southern Afghanistan this spring could sustain losses on a scale not seen since the Falklands war, military intelligence officers have warned.

They say insurgent forces in the south are preparing for a large offensive by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, backed by sophisticated weapons and training from Iran.

The warnings follow an increase in fighting in southern Afghanistan over the past year. Several thousand people, including about 100 US soldiers, have been killed.


All Done!

It's always a good feeling when one completes a job which one has done well:
The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year, New Orleans

The city deserves it:
Ringing out one of the worst years in its colorful history, New Orleans launched into a rollicking New Year's Eve of memorials and merrymaking, from a traditional jazz funeral procession in honor of the hundreds of hurricane victims to an after-dark New Year's party.

"Thank God it's over!" folk singer Arlo Guthrie said from the French Quarter, where he was performing for the crowd.

Despite the widespread destruction still evident four months after Katrina, the city decided to welcome the New Year with fireworks, concerts, and in a twist on the Times Square ball drop, the lowering of a giant gumbo pot to mark the start of 2006.

Meanwhile, Nagin is, I hope, right:
New Orleans could take three to five years to regain its population of nearly half a million before Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin said on Sunday, in a more optimistic view than some predictions the historic jazz city may never fully recover.

Nagin said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that reopening several public and private schools this month would help raise New Orleans' population to about 200,000, double the current level, as families returned with their children.


Happy New Year!

Out with the old (i.e. Sod off, Rat):

Pope Benedict XVI remembered his predecessor Saturday night and again stressed the importance of a family based on marriage "in the life of the church and of society."
In his homily, the pontiff referred to an address he gave in June on the role of the family, when he referred to marriage as a union between man and woman and condemned same-sex unions as anarchic "pseudo-matrimony."

And in with the new!

LGBT communities in several states gain new rights today.

In California four laws went into effect at midnight, including the nation’s first law prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in health coverage.
In Illinois, a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity became a reality Sunday, nearly a year after Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed it into law and more than three decades since state lawmakers first debated it.
In Palm Beach County, Florida, an ordinance that went into effect at midnight offers the same employee benefits to its current and retired employees with domestic partners as it offers to married employees and retirees.
Of oourse, we all know what this will mean:


Zapatistas on the March

I find this very promising, both in that this move is nonviolent and in that it shows the continued activity of leftist politics to the south of the United States:

The Zapatista rebels of Mexico are emerging from their jungle hideout for a six-month campaign tour of the country, designed to be an alternative to this year's already contentious presidential race.

The tour begins on New Year's Day - to coincide with the anniversary of a brief Zapatista uprising in the name of Indian rights 12 years ago. This time, however, the Zapatistas are not expected to carry weapons and declare war when they march into San Cristobal.

Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista leader, has said he will build a nationalist leftist movement that will "shake this country up from below" during a visit to Mexico's 31 states.

Marcos has promised that the movement will not be violent, saying that he will no longer be a military sub-commander but a civilian known as Delegate Zero.