Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays, Humpbacks!

Japan is backing down:
Giving in to U.S. pressure and worldwide criticism, Japan's government on Friday announced a whaling fleet now in the Southern Ocean for its annual hunt will not kill the threatened species as originally planned.


Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I'll just give you the headline, and let you imagine the rest of this feel-good puff piece:

Katrina helps spread Cajun cooking

Yeah, and I bet Iraqi cuisine is more prevalent throughout the Middle East and the world than ever before.

Hurray for the Bush administration for bringing us all together.


Character Assassination

RIP Borat and Ali G:
Borat is dead.

Sacha Baron Cohen tells The Daily Telegraph that he's retiring the clueless Kazakh journalist, as well as his alter ego, aspiring rapper Ali G.

"When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing," the 36-year-old actor-comedian says in the British newspaper's Friday edition.

"It is like saying goodbye to a loved one. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it's fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I `get' with Borat again, so it's a kind of self-defeating form, really."



Lesbian Pride in Virginia

Student doesn't have to put her shirt back in the closet:
A Virginia high school principal has agreed not to interfere with a lesbian student's choice of T-shirt.

17-year-old Bethany Laccone, reported the Associated Press on Friday, had been told by a teacher and assistant principal at I.C. Norcom High School to conceal the "lesbian pride" symbol on her T-shirt or face suspension. Laccone went to the ACLU, which in turn demanded that the school apologize and affirm a student's right to political expression, separate from a dress code that prohibits "sexually suggestive messages."

Reports The Virginian-Pilot this morning, I.C. Norcom High School Principal Lynn Briley says she has spoken to the assistant principal and teacher involved in the incident, and acknowledged that a mistake was made. Briley plans to apologize to Laccone and work with the ACLU to further meet their guidelines.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good Riddance

It's about time:
Trent Lott has ended a 35 year career in Congress that saw him voting against every LGBT measure brought before it.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Certain Lack of Judgment

What principal would let this decidedly twisted individual anywhere near kids?

A new HBO documentary, recently previewed on ABC's Nightline, highlights Fatica's Hard as Nails Ministry, an operation he runs to bring wayward kids back into the Catholic Church. "I'm not the smartest tool in the shed," he jokes. "I'm just a regular guy. But what I do know is I live here, right now, and I was born for this era. There's something big that God wants to do with me."

That thing, in Fatica's view, is to "shake kids up" through passionate presentations at Catholic high schools. Fatica screams, points, and jumps around stage. He points out when girls are overweight to show the kids "how we really treat people." Most shockingly, he allows kids to whack him across the back with a steel chair while he tells the room, "I want you to know that Jesus loves you!"

Fatica says that his steel chair antics have multiple purposes. The first is appeal. "It's hard to get young people's attention in this era," he says. "So we use this experience to help them." He continues, pointing out that the excercise is really about love. "St. Francis, to show people that he sinned, jumped in thorns ... I'm just following what the saints do."

Some worry that his style can push the envelope too far, advocating violence and aggression. The documentary highlights one young person who appears to have a broken arm. "It's all about praising Jesus," the boy says, "and if I have to get hurt praising Jesus, that's just what I'm going to have to do." In one Vermont high school, parents complained, and told him to leave the building.

But an emotional Fatica is sure Hard as Nails is a valuable project. "I think God is proud of me," he exclaims.

ABC's Nightline profiles an HBO documentary about Justin Fatica who encourages followers to hit him as part of religious teachings.


Pay Up

More baby-steps toward something resembling compensation in Australia:

As the new Australian Government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd contemplates an apology to Aborigines for past injustices, the potential cost of the gesture appears to be skyrocketing.

A prominent Aboriginal lawyer, Michael Mansell, has called for the Labor Government to set aside A$1 billion ($1.13 billion) to compensate the Stolen Generations - Aboriginal people who were removed from their families as children in a policy of forced assimilation. The practice lasted into the 1970s.

But yesterday other senior Aboriginal representatives upped the ante, saying A$1 billion was "really quite minimal" and it should be doubled or tripled.

The demand for a compensation fund could be a headache for Rudd, whose promise of an apology overturned the long-standing refusal of his predecessor, John Howard, to say sorry for past wrongs inflicted on indigenous people.

During his 11 years in power Howard argued that contemporary Australians bore no responsibility for the deeds of the past.

Even A$1 billion would dwarf the $793.7 million in compensation awarded to Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The two largest of $170 million each were for Tainui and Ngai Tahu.

Professor Boni Robertson said the sum of A$1 billion was "just a starting point" as negotiations with the Rudd Government began.

Fellow indigenous academic Gracelyn Smallwood said the compensation fund would need to be A$2 billion to A$3 billion.


Whaling Backstory

Here's a bit of history that is news to me:

RELATIONS between Australia and its close ally Japan are being threatened by an expansion of Japanese whaling operations that has more to do with US general Douglas MacArthur than any deep-rooted Japanese desire to eat whales.

It was General MacArthur, as military governor of Japan in 1945, who revived the practice of large-scale whaling to feed millions of Japanese who were on the verge of starvation after World War II.

The Federal Opposition warned yesterday that any Australian naval vessels sent to the southern oceans to monitor whalers might find themselves confronted by Japanese warships, with serious implications for the security relationship between the two countries.


It's a fact that a small minority of Japanese have dined on whale meat over many centuries. Most of them lived in isolated coastal communities and obtained their whales "passively" — when they were driven ashore by whale sharks — or by surrounding them in a mass of small boats and spearing them to death.

Ancient Japan was never a builder of large ships and deep-water whaling was only introduced there in the 19th century as Japan emerged from a long period of self-imposed seclusion. The operation set up by Japan with considerable Norwegian help was mainly after a rich harvest of whale oil. The industry collapsed with World War II.

Looking for a food stock for a nation used to eating fish, General MacArthur restored the deep-water whaling operation: the Japanese got the meat and the US got millions of dollars worth of oil.

Trevor Wilson spent years in Japan as a student and then as an Australian diplomat trying to persuade the Japanese to switch from hunting whales to watching them. Now at the Australian National University's Japan Research Centre, Mr Wilson said last night it was nonsense to suggest that Japanese people had any deep-seated cultural or religious affinity for whale meat.

"When they say there are cultural reasons or that it is part of their cuisine, most of that is nonsense."


I'm Amazed

Both that Congressed passed it, and that Bush won't veto it:
Congress by a wide margin approved the first increase in automobile fuel economy in 32 years Tuesday, and President Bush has signaled he will accept the mandates on the auto industry.


Monday, December 17, 2007

How Very Kind

I'm sure she is quite grateful:
The Saudi king has pardoned a female rape victim sentenced to jail and 200 lashes for being alone with a man raped in the same attack, reports say.

The "Qatif girl" case caused an international outcry with widespread criticism of the Saudi justice system.

The male and female victims were in a car together when they were abducted and raped by seven attackers, who were given jail sentences up to nine years.

Press reports say King Abdullah's move did not mean the sentence was wrong.


The Insurgents Send Their Thanks

Well done:

The US military in Iraq has lost track of another 12,000 weapons, including more than 800 machine-guns, and everything from 2100 new electricity generators to half a dozen garbage trucks.

The latest gap in record-keeping follows a report by the US government's accountability office in the summer which revealed that 190,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and automatic pistols earmarked for Iraqi government forces had gone astray in 2004 and 2005 and could be in insurgent hands.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Vicious, Brutal Torturers

That's today's America:
The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as "black sites." But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on -- there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.

The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation -- one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.

It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words "I am innocent" in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.

So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

On several occasions, when Bashmilah's state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. "What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me," Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. "One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breathe."


Bashmilah's story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.


Two Americas

Time for a John Edwards
, I'd say:

The increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans, data in a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows.

The poorest fifth of households had total income of $383.4 billion in 2005, while just the increase in income for the top 1 percent came to $524.8 billion, a figure 37 percent higher.

The total income of the top 1.1 million households was $1.8 trillion, or 18.1 percent of the total income of all Americans, up from 14.3 percent of all income in 2003. The total 2005 income of the three million individual Americans at the top was roughly equal to that of the bottom 166 million Americans, analysis of the report showed.

The report is the latest to document the growing concentration of income at the top...