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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

An unlovely spectacle of democratic governance.

There is some really good writing about the current situation starting to pop up here and there in the US press. Earlier, we posted an article that considered whether Iraq's recent elections had made things any better. Working a similar vein, a piece by George Packer that we just read also looks at the fallout from the elections. Packer, however, is more interested in showing that events since the elections demonstrate how wrong US planners were about the nature of the Iraqi polity, and how they were equally wrong about their own ability to remold Iraq in any particular image — let alone be able to make it the beacon of democracy that Dubya's administraton claims that Iraq has become.

The group of men who have emerged as Iraq's rulers is dominated by aging former opposition politicians — heavyset power brokers with thick jowls and armed militias. Their backing comes from narrow ethnic and sectarian bases; since the elections, though, the sound of Shiite triumphalism has been growing louder. Shiite leaders have begun to insist on a wholesale purge of the overwhelmingly Sunni Baathists recently brought back into government. The new Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Shiite Islamic Dawa Party, is a man of mediocre talents but with an oratorical gift admired by Iraqis. During his time on the now defunct Governing Council, he used to harass secretaries for coming to work unveiled. According to one leading Shiite cleric, Jaafari was Tehran's choice.The Deputy Prime Minister is the Lazarus-like Ahmad Chalabi, who has converted his poll-tested unpopularity into power through sheer backroom political genius. Washington neoconservatives once claimed that Chalabi was the only real liberal among Iraqi leaders, but he owes his comeback from last year's disgrace to a tactical alliance with the least liberal man in Iraqi politics: the radical (and unstable) cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Chalabi, a secularist without facial hair, now occupies the seat of hard-line Shiism at the table. A consummate dealmaker, he is holding the oil portfolio until the government selects a minister. That person will come, in all likelihood, from the small party that calls itself the true heir of Sadr's martyred father, who advocated the rule of the clerics. Moqtada's own followers have been given the health ministry; having intimidated doctors by sending armed militiamen to take over hospitals, they will now be able to practice their theocratic medicine with the blessing of the minister.

In a country emerging from dictatorship, a secular, nonsectarian brand of nationalism seldom fares well. In Iraq, it is represented by the party of Iyad Allawi, the former interim Prime Minister, which came in a distant third in the elections, after the Shiite coalition and the Kurds. Allawi?s party is not included in the new government, and the more moderate Shiites and Sunnis, who don?t want to be governed by clerics of either sect, worry that a conservative and divisive vision of Islam will dominate the constitution....

For the moment, the Kurds represent the greatest hope of the more secular and liberal Iraqis. In the surest sign that the virulent Arab nationalism of the Baathist regime has been repudiated, Jalal Talabani has made history by becoming Iraq's first Kurdish president. But the Kurds are playing a two-track game?to secure a powerful place in Baghdad, and to consolidate their autonomous region in the north?and if, as seems likely, the roads ever diverge, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny. The Sunnis, for their part, seem to be balanced on the edge of total rejection. Long in power, they never learned to think of themselves as one group among several, and now no one is able to speak for them....

Via New Yorker.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:59 PM | Get permalink

Keeping the US public in the dark about Iraq.

That's the charge levelled at US television networks in this story from the Toronto Star's correspondent in Washington.

Even though Iraq is on the brink of a bloody civil war — one in which US troops will be caught in the crossfire — US television newscasts arent' telling the story. Instead, they're filling news holes with stories that used to be the province of tabloid television, if not the 'real' newsprint tabloids.

The important news?

The important news?

More than 450 Iraqis have been slaughtered in the past two weeks in a direct challenge to a new Iraqi government, making those heady days of the January election seem like something from the distant past. The euphoria of the purple thumb, the symbol of the bravery of voters, has given way to a river of blood-red in some of the worst violence in the post-Saddam era.

"We are on the edge of civil war," said Noah Feldman, a New York University professor and chief U.S. adviser to Iraq on the writing of the country's new constitution.

Yet, somehow this sharp surge in deadly bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in Iraq has occurred largely under the radar in the United States.

No public figures have risen this week to decry this most recent carnage, no one is breaking into regular programming on cable news shows.

Perhaps Americans have simply become numb to the background hum of Iraqi violence. Perhaps the lack of graphic images on television mean that medium doesn't know how to cover the story. Perhaps, more cynically, Iraqis killing Iraqis is not as compelling a story.

The left-leaning American Progress Action Fund said in a statement yesterdayAmerica's most important foreign policy venture is teetering on the edge of civil war, but it is being ignored by television networks.

"Television media — still the primary source of news for most Americans — is failing miserably," it said. "America is being kept in the dark."

While American TV viewers turn to runaway brides, fast-food fingers and the daily Michael Jackson aberration, they are missing the story of an increasingly massive foreign policy failure.

Via Toronto Star.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:49 AM | Get permalink

But that's not all you get!!

Want to make big money without laying out a dime of your own cash? Want to see the profits flow in — even while you're asleep?

Then the Republican Guide to Wartime Tax Cuts is for you!

Via NY Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:55 AM | Get permalink

'A new permutation of old traditions.'

Big magpie thanks to veiled4allah for pointing us to this excellent article about suicide bombings by Madeleine Bunting. According to Bunting, suicide bombings like those that have become common in Iraq are neither new nor something that's alien to Western cultural traditions — despite the 'common wisdom' to the contrary.

Even more closely related to Iraq's suicide bombers is the fascinating description of early Christian martyrdom in Farhad Khosrokhavar's new book, Suicide Bombers. The suicidal recklessness of a large number of early Christians, aimed precisely at bringing about their martyrdom, bewildered and horrified contemporary commentators. But martyrdom was an astonishingly effective propaganda tool designed to inspire awe - and converts. The Greek origin of the word martyr is "witness". Interestingly, it prompted exactly the same sorts of criticism among pagan Romans as today's Islamist militants do in the west: the Christian martyrs were accused of dementia and irrationality. Such was the flood of Christians in pursuit of martyrdom by the third century that the theologians had to step in to declare this thirst for a holy death to be blasphemous.

That concept of using your death to bear witness to a cause, without killing others, has prompted more than 1,000 suicides since 1963, when a Buddhist monk set himself on fire in protest against the oppression of Buddhism in Vietnam. Global mass media ensure that this individual protest has impact across the world; it is a desperate but hugely effective way to give the cause prominence.

Elements of all these precedents can be traced in the research done on motivations of suicide bombers in Palestine, Chechnya and al-Qaida and probably now those in Iraq. A sense of humiliation and the need to avenge honour on the part of their faith and/or people (or a potent combination of both as in Iraq) is emphasised by Khosrokhavar. He also picks up on how hating the world (because of the experience of injustice and oppression) leads to a longing for death - a rejection of this world's vale of tears.

These are concepts which are very difficult for westerners living largely comfortable lives to grasp. Honour is meaningless to us; we have replaced it with a preoccupation with status and self-fulfilment. We dimly grasp self-sacrifice but only apply the concept to our raising of children. Meanwhile, nothing can trump our dedication to the good life of consumer capitalism, and certainly not any system of abstract beliefs. Not having experienced the desperation of oppression, we have little purchase on the extremism it might engender. Meanwhile, we have medicalised rather than politicised the condition of hating the world and longing for death. The gulf in understanding yawns wide.

But our outraged incomprehension of suicide bombing is also partly because it is the opposite of how we have come to believe wars are fought. It is not the high technology of laser-guided bombs, nor the strangely sterile detachment of the aeroplane camera without any images of the screams, smashed bones and blood. The west can only now kill from a distance - preferably from several thousand feet up in the air or several hundred kilometres away on an aircraft carrier. It is the very proximity of these suicide missions which is so shocking. This kind of intimate killing is a reversion to pre-industrial warfare - the kind of brutality seen in the thirty years war, for example. Suicide bombers in Iraq are a new permutation of old traditions; they have no monopoly on the horrors they reveal of the human psyche and its capacity to destroy life.

Via UK Guardian.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:35 AM | Get permalink

Did Iraq's elections make things worse instead of better?

This article by Knight-Ridder reporter Hannah Allam makes a very good case for 'worse.'

The historic election sheared off a thin facade of wartime national unity and reinforced ethnic and sectarian tensions that have plagued Iraq for centuries. Iraqis immediately began playing the roles the election results delivered to them: victorious Shiite Muslim, assertive Kurd, disaffected Sunni Arab. Within those groups lies a mosaic of other splits, especially between secularists and Islamists vying for Iraq's soul.

With little social cohesion, violence has soared, fueled by anger over foreign occupation and religious differences, while a semi-sovereign, disjointed government has taken over with little ability to control or appeal to groups behind the killings. At least 400 Iraqis have died in two weeks. U.S. casualties are also up. According to, a Web site that tracks Iraq coalition casualties, 46 American service members died under fire in April, and 28 have died so far in May.

The heady, hopeful days surrounding the election seem more distant with each early-morning explosion that rouses Baghdad with the reliability of an alarm clock.

As we like to say, make sure to read the whole thing.

Via Knight Ridder Washington Bureau.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:54 AM | Get permalink

Friday, May 13, 2005

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Dr David Hager is leaving the US Food & Drug Administration's reproductive drugs panel at the end of June. Hager is leaving amid accusations that he improperly influenced the FDA to overrule the reproductive drug panel's recommendation that Plan B (an emergency contraceptive) become available without a prescription.

For more on Hager, see Magpie posts here and here.

Via Ms Feminist Wire.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:39 PM | Get permalink

Some animals are more equal than others.

Yesterday, we posted on how nobody bothered to interrupt Dubya's bike ride to tell him about the alert in Washington that caused the evacuation of the government.

Today, we find out that bikes aren't allowed on the trail where Dubya was riding [scroll down]. Some would argue that this is a small thing, but we think it's a good example of how Dubya and other in his administration think they can use and dispose of public property in any way they wish.

Via Kicking Ass.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:32 PM | Get permalink

Those busy folks at the American Family Association.

Now they're trying to pressure Kraft into pulling its financial support of the 2006 Gay Games. Nice, huh?

In response, those equally busy folks over at BlogActive have provided an easy way for you to tell Kraft that you appreciate their support of the games.

And just to make it harder for you not to contact Kraft, here's contact info that we grabbed right from the AFA's website:

Kraft Foods
CEO Roger K. Deromedi
3 Lakes Dr.
Northfield, IL 60093
Phone: 847-646-2000
Fax: 847-646-6005
TOLL FREE: 1-800-323-0768
Online contact form

Via Atrios.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:20 PM | Get permalink

Dept. of 'We Wish We'd Said That.'

This one comes from Sarah Posner at The Gadflyer, who administers a thorough dressing-down to critics of yesterday's federal court decision overturning Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriages.

Here's what Texas Senator John Cornyn — himself a former judge who has tried to link courthouse violence with supposed citizen frustration with "judicial activism" — had to say: "This ruling is a vivid reminder that opponents of traditional marriage have not given up their effort to overturn the will of the people," because the majority of Nebraskans voted for the ban.

I've got a Constitutional News Flash for the Senator, who, despite being a lawyer, isn't the sharpest pencil in the box when it comes to constitutional law: the purpose of the equal protection clause is to protect minority rights from being trampled by the majority. In other words, constitutionally speaking, it's irrelevant that a majority of Nebraskans were swayed by homophobic rhetoric and voted for the ban. The system of checks and balances that we've held dear for over 200 years — and which your party is seeking to blow up with a touch of a nuclear button — ensures that people with minority views, minority skin color, minority sexualities, or minority living arrangements have the same rights and privileges as a majority that may seek to deny them those rights and privileges.

Posner also lays into Focus on the Family's James Dobson, but you'll have to go over here to read that.

Very well done.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 PM | Get permalink

Extra! Extra!

Giant hot dog goes missing!

If you don't click the link, you'll never get to read the story's priceless last sentence.

Via Minneapolis Star Tribune.

[Really annoying 'free' reg. req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:45 AM | Get permalink

Coming from the grassroots.

A Democratic group in the US state of South Dakota is working to counter the GOP echo chamber. Taking advantage of the cheap ad rates in their state, Grassroots Democrats South Dakota has started a billboard campaign to get across the message that 'Democrats make America stronger.'

Democrat billboard

One of the Grassroots Dems billboards

[With] all of the false Republican rhetoric that claims Democrats are nothing more than obstructionist, crazy liberals, and unpatriotic ? as individuals, it?s hard to know how to respond.... In a red state, to effectively deliver this message, it?s critical to repeat, "Democrats make America stronger" over a long period of time, and in a variety of ways. And in South Dakota we can deliver and fine-tune that message for a fraction of what it would cost in other states.

Go here if you want to make a donation to support the Grassroots Dems' efforts.

Via BOPNews.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:36 AM | Get permalink

'Hypocrisy, an over-arching war mentality, and a refusal to adhere to international obligations'

That's how Amnesty International characterizes the way in which Dubya's administration is handling detention of suspects in its 'war on terror.' In a new report on US detention policy, Amnesty says that 'there is evidence of involvement in crimes in the "war on terror", including "disappearances", extrajudicial executions, and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.'

A year after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke, the conditions remain in place for torture and ill-treatment in US custody to occur. While the US government is pursuing a public relations exercise to persuade the world that what the Abu Ghraib photographs revealed was a small problem that has now been fixed, thousands of detainees in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, and secret locations elsewhere remain at risk of torture or ill-treatment. This is because of the USA?s continuing pick and choose approach to international law and standards, and the systematic use of incommunicado detention and denial of judicial review, a basic safeguard against arbitrary detention, torture and "disappearance".

More than a year after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the US courts have the jurisdiction to consider appeals from the detainees held in the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, not a single detainee held there has had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed. The report describes how the US administration is continuing to seek to block such review every step of the way, or at least to keep it as far from a judicial process as possible.

The report includes an analysis of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, executive bodies which the administration is hoping to persuade a federal court to accept as a substitute for judicial review. It also examines proposed trials by military commissions; the cases of "enemy combatants" detained on the US mainland; secret transfers and detentions by US agents; the case of a US citizen held in custody in Saudi Arabia allegedly at the behest of the USA; and the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, facing execution for his alleged role in the attacks of 11 September 2001 which sparked the so-called "war on terror".

Evidence of torture and other ill-treatment by US forces continues to mount. To date, not a single US agent has been charged under the USA?s Anti-Torture Act or War Crimes Act. While a few, mainly low-ranking soldiers have been tried by court-martial and others subjected to non-judicial or administrative sanctions, no member of the US administration has been subjected to independent investigative scrutiny, despite evidence that human rights violations have been authorized, and evidence that there was a high-level conspiracy to give immunity from prosecution to US agents accused of torture or war crimes.

Amnesty's press release for the report is here.

The full report, 'Guantánamo and beyond: The continuing pursuit of unchecked executive power,' can be found here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:10 AM | Get permalink

Not your average Holocaust museum.

In some ways, there's nothing out of the ordinary about the museum. It has photographs of the genocide against the Jews that took place during the Second World War, and its exhibits explain how and why this event happened. What's unusual is the museum's location: it's in the Arab city of Nazareth, located in northern Israel. (Israel has a substantial non-Jewish population, mainly Arab.)

The Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education was founded by Palestinian lawyer Khaled Kasab Mahameed to counteract the tendency of many Arabs to deny or minimize the Holocaust. It's the only museum of its type in the occupied territories, and is believed to be the first anywhere in the Arab world.
The Boston Globe has an excellent article about the museum and the controversy surounding it.

Exhibit in Arab Holocaust museum

Exhibit in Holocaust museum

"Jewish people everywhere, not just in Israel, have a feeling of persecution" because of centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust, [said Mahmeed]. "This feeling of persecution shapes their consciousness. . . . Every aspect of life is affected by this feeling of persecution, which is very deep in the Jewish soul...."

[Mahameed said] that the masses of Arabs who deny or minimize the Holocaust must understand that "we are not talking about 20,000 Israelis or 30,000 people killed in the conflict here -- we are talking about 6 million people killed in cold blood.... This is very important. This affects the policies of the Israeli government toward the Palestinians, toward the land, the budget, settlements -- everything.

"If Arabs really understand this, they should understand that they must act with all their force to protect Israel and defend Jews against Nazis and other killers," he said. "And when the Jewish people see that the Arabs understand, they will be able to give the Arabs their rights."

Like other Arabs who are trying to understand the Holocaust and communicate with Jews about it, Mahameed steers clear of expressing opinions on specific solutions to political problems.

"I am not talking about borders," he said. "I leave this to Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon. I am talking about changing the environment and giving people the opportunity to live peacefully. One state, two states, four states -- this does not concern me."

Mahmeed is paying the price for having views that are outside the Palestinian political mainstram and which are likely to be viewed by suspicion by many Jews. On one hand, the Arabic-language media in the region are ignoring Mahmeed's efforts and his own brother has ostracized him. On the other, the US-based Anti-Defamation has blasted Mahmeed's museum, saying that an anti-Israel theme undercuts its educational message:

Laura Kam Issacharoff, codirector of the Israel office of the League, who issued the critical statement, said she had not visited the exhibit and based her assessment on Mahameed's website.

Issacharoff said in a telephone interview that Mahameed, with whom she has talked at length, "is not a bad man. The fact that he is coming from the community is amazing." But, she said, his perspective is grounded in the idea Israel is not a legitimate state and that its creation, at the expense of Palestinians, was enabled by European guilt over the Holocaust.

This, she asserted, feeds into a widespread belief in the Arab world that "because of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust, the all-powerful Jew-Israeli is willing to do anything to anyone to maintain his country."

[This magpie has read the museum's statement of purpose and we don't find the anti-Israel bias that Issacharoff noted.]

Lest anyone go away thinking Jewish opinion on the Nazareth museum is monolithic, see this rather positive article on the museum that appeared in the Jerusalem Times in March.

The website [in Arabic, Hebrew, and English] for the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education is here.

The Anti-Defamation League's press statement on the museum is here.

Via Muslim Wake Up! Blog.

[15 May: Corrected post to give the correct location for Nazareth.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:09 AM | Get permalink

The 'official' story about Abu Ghraib is falling apart.

The former commander of the Abu Ghraib prison says that a high-ranking US officer introduced the methods used to torture and abuse Iraqi prisoners. According to Lt. Janis Karpinski — who had been a one-star general in the Army reserves until she was demoted as punishment — Gen. Geoffrey Miller introduced the human pyramid, dog leashes, and other methods used to humiliate those incarcerated at the prison. Miller had been head of the prison at Guantanamo Bay before he was sent to Iraq to recommend changes in prison operations there.

Karpinski made the charge against Gen. Miller in an interview on the ABC News program 'Nightline.' In the absence of a transcript of the program, we've pieced together material from three sources to detail that charge and other comments that Karpinski had about Abu Ghraib and her own treatment at the hands of military authorities:

Reuters: "I believe that Gen. Miller gave them the ideas, gave them the instruction on what techniques to use," she said in an interview on the ABC News "Nightline" program.

Asked if she was referring to the positioning of prisoners in human pyramids and putting dog leashes on detainees, Karpinski said, "I can tell you with certainty that the MPs (military police) certainly did not design those techniques, they certainly did not come to Abu Ghraib or to Iraq with dog collars and dog leashes."

Aljazeera/Reuters: Karpinski told ABC she believes officials up the chain of command knew or should have known what was going on at Abu Ghraib.

Asked if that included Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, she said: "Well absolutely. And I would say that it is consistent with his direction for the military."

Karpinski said her superiors bore responsibility but reiterated her contention that it was convenient for the military to blame her because of her status as a reservist.

"All the way up to the top of the Pentagon, they have a long-standing mind-set about reservists and National Guard soldiers," she said. "And we are considered disposable."

ABC: In the "Nightline" interview, Karpinski said the events at Abu Ghraib took place when she no longer was in direct control of the prison. She also said blaming her is "convenient" for the military, especially given what she sees as the Army's disdain for the reservists.

"And I think it goes a long way toward explaining why we were not well received by Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez or his entire staff," she said of the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. "They didn't want to acknowledge that they needed a reserve brigade, especially when commanded by a female general officer, to do this critical mission."

Karpinski said she is "not convinced" that the release of the photographs and subsequent revelations of abuse have put an end to abuse at Abu Ghraib.

"Maybe people who are orchestrating have gotten smarter and have gotten better," she told "Nightline's" Ted Koppel. "And certainly [they] have threatened any soldier coming anywhere near an interrogation with a camera, probably with any kind of military discipline that they can give them..."

There also may be innocent Iraqis detained in Abu Ghraib prison, a practice that she fought against while she was in command, Karpinski said.

"We can do better than this as an army and as a country. And I can tell you that from the military intelligence interrogators, they wanted to release -- after very brief initial interviews, or initial interrogations as they call them, to get basic information -- they wanted to release easily 80 percent of the prisoners that were being held at Abu Ghraib," she said. "Because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they had no actionable intelligence, they didn't know anything about any of the questions that they were asking them. But they weren't allowed to.

"And at one point, when I was protesting that, I was told, 'I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent Iraqis. We're winning the war,'" she said. "And my response was, 'Not inside the wire, you're not.' Because every person that we're holding who is innocent becomes our enemy the minute they walk out of any prison."

It's going to be interesting to hear what the White House, Defense Department, and Pentagon have to say about Karpinski's charges in the days to come.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 AM | Get permalink

Art cars?


Ho ho ho!

And that photo barely scratches the surface.

Via Grow-a-Brain.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Thursday, May 12, 2005

There is so much business as usual in Dubya's administration.

Yesterday, we posted about Dr. David Hager, the fundamentalist Christian who Dubya appointed to a Food and Drug Administration position dealing with reproductive health drugs. We mentioned how, when the FDA was deciding whether to make it easier to get Plan B (an emergency contraceptive), Hager sent a letter that apparently convinced the agency to overrule a panel that had recommended allowing over-the-counter sales.

That information hasn't gone unnoticed in the Congress, and two Democratic senators are calling for an investigation of that memo and that FDA decision.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington said reports about the memo added to concerns that politics was trumping science in the government's review of Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Plan B contraceptive....

Murray and Clinton asked Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to immediately investigate reports about Hager's memo and whether it swayed any FDA decisions. Neither senator has seen the memo, their spokeswomen said.

"If substantiated, these allegations seem to leave little doubt that the process for considering Barr Laboratories' application was based not on science, but on personal beliefs," the senators wrote in a letter to Leavitt.

Via Reuters.

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:33 PM | Get permalink

Is it just us?

Or is there something really odd about what happened here? Check out the lead for this NY Times story:

A single-engine plane bearing down on Washington without clearance prompted a frantic evacuation of the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the White House on Wednesday. President Bush was not told of the threat until he finished a bicycle ride at a Maryland wildlife center, nearly 40 minutes after the plane had been forced to turn away, administration officials said.

The government in Washington is evacuated, but there's no need to tell Dubya about the problem until after everything's over?

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:36 AM | Get permalink

The 2 1/2-party system.

We'd be happy to take that here in the US, but we're not holding our breath.

But just over the border in British Columbia*, it's looking like the provincial election coming up on Tuesday may finally end BC's two-party system under which the New Democrats and the right-wing party du jour have traded control of government back and forth since the mid-20th century. As Duncan Cameron explains, the public's disaffection with the current right-wing government of Gordon Campbell's Liberal party won't necessarily translate into a win for the opposition. And the advent of a 2 1/2-party system may not mean much much political change in the short run.

[The] Liberals are clearly the party of business, trying to scare the public with stories of NDP governments past.

But the opposition, far from being united, is split between the NDP and the Greens. As for socialism, it is only mentioned by the Liberals.

NDP leader Carol James has proven to be a tough campaigner, poised and self-assured, attacking the Liberal record: ?the issue is trust.? If she were auditioning for the job of leader of the opposition she has clearly got it.

The Greens are just trying to get their leader, Adrienne Carr, into the Legislature as the member from Powell River, the mill town up the sunshine coast that was home to one-time Liberal leader Gordon Wilson who ended up with the NDP.

But, with the Greens polling consistently in the 12-14 per cent range across the province, they are bound to be the spoilers in many a riding on Election Day.

So B.C. is no longer a two-party show, featuring a left and a right. Rather it is a two and one-half party system, much like an earlier federal system of Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and the NDP ? before the arrival of the Bloc and the Reform Party.

In B.C.'s scenario, the NDP can try and be the centrist party, with the Liberals happily pushing themselves to the right and the Greens playing the traditional NDP role of supplying ideas to the governing party. Or, as with the Ottawa example, the system can feature two centrist parties, which alternate in office, with each being hardly distinguishable in power, except by personalities and the occasional big issue.

BC politics could get much more interesting in the 2009 provincial election if voters pass the single transferrable vote referendum. Similar in some ways to the instant runoff voting system recently adopted by San Francisco, the single transferrable vote would let voters rank candidates in order of preference instead of casting a single vote for one candidate. If their first choice either lost the election or had more than enough votes to be elected (in a multi-member district), all or part of their vote would be transferred to their next choice.

If this sounds confusing, it is — at least to people used to voting for candidates in single-seat, winner-take-all districts. The CBC did a good of showing how single transferrable vote would work out in practice in their ice cream election. If you're befuddled, it will help.

If single transferrable vote is adopted, it would be possible for an candidate in a multi-member district to be elected to the BC legislature with as little as 25 percent of the vote. Proponents say that this would ensure that the composition of the legislature would match the way people voted than is possible by the current system. A recent report said that the single transferrable vote would make also make it more likely that the province would be governed by coalitions, rather than single parties.

Via rabble and CBC British Columbia.

*For all you geographically impaired Yanks, that's in Canada.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:02 AM | Get permalink

'It's the constitution, not just a nice rule we can follow or not follow.'

Over the past few months, the US Air Force Academy has been trying to deal with accusations that fundamentalist Christians on academy staff are promoting their brand of Christianity, and that this activity is so pervasive that cadets who have different religious beliefs — especially non-Christians — are suffering religious discrimination. According to a report compiled by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, academy officers and staff members have opened mandatory events at the academy with prayer, sent academy-wide email messages that included religious taglines, and run ads in the academy newspaper asking cadets to contact them to 'discuss Jesus.'

Earlier this week, one of the academy's chaplains went public with charges that a religious tolerance program that she helped create was watered down afer it was shown to officers. According to MeLinda Morton, those officers included the chief chaplain for the Air Force.

In an interview on Tuesday, Captain Morton, a Lutheran who has been a chaplain at the academy for two and a half years, said that the initial reception to the tolerance program helped illustrate the climate.

She said the R.S.V.P. program was significantly altered after it was screened last fall for an audience of 300 staff members and officers at the academy. Military officials confirmed that the program had been altered but said such changes were routine in the development of such a training program.

Those at the screening included Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, the chief of chaplains for the entire Air Force, who approached Captain Morton after the screening, she said, and asked her, "Why is it that the Christians never win?" in response to some of the program's dramatizations of interactions between cadets of different religions.

Captain Morton said: "It was obvious to us that he had missed the point of the entire presentation here. It wasn't about winning or losing, some kind of cosmic battle, it was about helping our folks at the Air Force Academy understand the wonders of the whole range of religious experiences."

In an interview on Wednesday, Major General Baldwin acknowledged making that comment and said he had objected because too many scenes in the original R.S.V.P. program had portrayed Christians at fault for excessive efforts at evangelizing other cadets.

"In every scenario, where cadet met cadet in the hall," he said, "every time it was the Christian who had to apologize and say, 'I'm sorry, I wasn't sensitive to your needs.' I said, that's not balanced, and the Christians will turn you off if every time they were the ones who made the mistake."

Major General Baldwin said he asked that the Air Force cut out the segments in the program on non-Christian religions like Buddhism, Judaism and Native American spirituality, as well as a clip from "Schindler's List," the Oscar-winning 1993 movie about the Holocaust. The R.S.V.P. program was cut from 90 minutes to 50. And Captain Morton said that instead of educating about other religions, it had been reworked in order to emphasize a more neutral message: that cadets should respect one another's differences.

For this magpie, the part of the story that best illustrates how much clout fundamentalist Christians have at the Air Force Academy, and probably in all of the Air Force, is this:

Captain Morton said she had decided to step forward without authorization from the public affairs office because: "We're talking the constitution here. It's the constitution, not just a nice rule we can follow or not follow. We all raised our hands and said we'd follow it, and that includes the First Amendment, that includes not using your power to advance your religious agenda."

She added, "I realize this is the end of my Air Force career."

Via NY Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:32 AM | Get permalink

Even more business as usual in Dubya's administration.

This story about Dr. David Hager, a right-wing fundamentalist Christian that Dubya appointed to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration really makes this magpie's stomach turn.

Hager, you might already know, had a huge hand in getting Dubya to dramatically increase the funding given to abstinence-only sex education. And it turns out that he's responsible for the FDA's 2004 decision to overrule an advisory committee that recommended that emergency contraception [Plan B] be made more easily available. With those 'qualifications,' it's no surprise that Christian fundamentalists regard him as a leading expert on sexuality and women's health.

We're not going to excerpt the story. Go over to The Nation and read the whole sickening thing. When you get done, think about the fact that Dubya is almost certainly going to re-appoint Hager.

Via Left Coaster.

[5/12/2005: Corrected misspelling of Hager's last name.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:17 AM | Get permalink

A books-only zone for Mumbai?

After police evicted them from their customary spots on the street in Mumbai [formerly Bombay], 45 booksellers are asking the city to designate a zone where only books can be sold. The booksellers' request comes after city workers shut down book stalls and confiscated almost 100,000 books.

Says Kamlesh, a bookseller who has been hawking books for 25 years, "Let us have a special book zone, or a book estate in this city." Other sellers echo his views.

Says one, "I am from Kolkata [formerly Calcutta]. College Street there is reserved for pavement booksellers. Why can?t Mumbai have a similar arrangement?"

The booksellers are now trying to get back the confiscated books, which have been dumped in the BMC [Bombay Municipal Corporation] office.

"We saw the BMC workers trodding on our books, pages may also have been torn or damaged, as the books were roughly thrown into the truck. Tell me, who will buy a torn book?" said an angry vendor.

Says another bookseller, "These officers threw our books. Didn?t they realise they were kicking goddess Saraswati? They too have become officers by reading books from here. Their children too buy magazines like National Geographic, which we sell at Rs 10 instead of Rs 175. They cut pictures for school projects from the magazines. Everybody knows how important we are, yet..."

This magpie thinks that a books-only zone would be a good idea for the streets of any city. Mayor Potter, are you listening?

Via Mid-Day [Mumbai] and LISNews.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:10 AM | Get permalink

Gotta watch those 'frivolous visits.'

We owe thanks to TalkLeft for finding this AP story about a US $50 fee that inmates at the jail in Hollidaysburg (PA) must pay if they want to visit with their children:

The fee covers the cost of transporting inmates two blocks from the Blair County Jail to the courthouse, where the visitations take place, and the cost of paying two sheriff's deputies to attend the visitations, Sheriff Larry Field said. The fee, which Field instituted last month, also cuts down on frivolous visits, he said.

Forty prisoners, who have 72 children total, voiced their opposition to the fee in a letter sent to the Altoona Mirror newspaper.

"How on God's earth can they make their own law, and for people with no money?" inmate Lisa Whitehead wrote in the letter.

What the AP report leaves out, and what the original Altoona Mirror story includes, is that all the inmates who are objecting to the new policy are women. Not that this policy restricting 'frivolous' visits is touched by any taint of gender stereotyping or anything.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink

Ooooooh, shiny!

Vintage bicycle posters!

Omega Bicycles poster

Omega Bicycles, 1895 [Artist: Henri Thiriet]

We just noticed that the owner of the site, Sellwood Cycle Repair is less than ten miles from this magpie's roost. We'll have to go by sometime and see if they have any of these posters on display.

For real cycling geeks, there are also galleries of vintage components and cycling jerseys you can peruse, too.

Via Life in the Present.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 AM | Get permalink

More business as usual for the Dubya administration.

Tasers are currently used by about 7,000 of the more than 16,000 police agencies in the US as a non-lethal alternative to firearms. While the manufacturer claims they are safe, there have been at least 100 deaths related to Taser use since 1999. The problem is significant enough that Amnesty International has urged that strict rules be placed on Taser use by US law enforcement.

Given these concerns, US Justice Department has ordered an investigation into Taser safety. And who have they chosen as one of the four scientific advisors for the study? Physician Robert Stratbucker, a paid consultant to Taser.

Stratbucker ... is among four paid advisers to a two-year study that is being launched by John Webster, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Webster's application to the Justice Department for a research grant last fall cited Stratbucker as an adviser, but it did not mention that Stratbucker is a medical consultant to Taser, the nation's leading seller of stun guns.

Stratbucker has worked with Taser as the Arizona company has touted its stun guns — also known as Tasers — as non-lethal weapons that offer a safe way for police to subdue suspects. Taser, whose Web site lists Stratbucker as the company's medical director, has cited his research in promoting its stun guns.

The Justice Department comforts us by saying that Stratbucker will only have a 'small' role in the study. And Stratucker says there's no conflict of interest.

In these days of Dubya, we suppose that we should be grateful that only one of the four study advisors has a glaringly obvious conflict of interest.

Via USA Today.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The 2015 SAT.

It's fair & balanced.

If dinosaurs first appeared 250 million years ago, and became extinct 185 million years later, how long ago did they become extinct?

A.   65 million years ago

B.   There is no paleontological consensus that dinosaurs ever existed

C.   3500 years ago, during the Flood

D.   However long ago it was that they turned gay and lost their moral values

Via Barista.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:12 PM | Get permalink

Whoa! Here's a big surprise.

From CNN:

     Satan no match for God, says pope

All we can say is that Reuters and CNN must have had really big news holes to fill today.

Via CJR Daily.

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:11 PM | Get permalink

How not to warn the world about the next flu pandemic.

Political concerns and scientific rivalries are hampering international efforts to give early warning about the inevitable next flu pandemic. Governments in the part of the world affected by the H5N1 flu virus (avian or 'bird' flu) aren't sharing virus samples from humans and infected poultry with the the UN organizations tracking the flu virus.

Tracking genetic changes in bird-flu viruses is vital for early warning of a human pandemic. But Nature has discovered that it is nearly eight months since the World Health Organization (WHO) last saw data on isolates from infected poultry in Asia. And from the dozens of patients who caught the deadly H5N1 strain this year, the WHO has managed to obtain just six samples.

Affected countries are failing, or refusing, to share their human samples with the WHO's influenza programme in Geneva. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) set up a network of labs to collect animal samples last year, but it has not received any for months, and Michael Perdue, head of Animal Influenza Liaison at the WHO flu programme, complains that the FAO "hasn't been sharing" what it does have.

Such lack of cooperation is a key concern as anxiety about a possible pandemic increases. Human cases are beginning to appear in clusters, which suggests that people are transmitting the virus, older people are falling ill, and milder cases are being reported. Taken together, these trends suggest that the virus is becoming less virulent and more infectious — two characteristics typical of pandemic flu strains.

With so few samples to work on, it is impossible to judge how worried to be, says Klaus Stöhr, coordinator of the WHO's flu programme. "It's as if you hear a noise in your car engine, but you keep driving, not knowing whether it's serious."

Why are samples being withheld? In Vietnam, it has to do with politics and control of information.

"Authorities in Vietnam are very sensitive as to what they tell the people," [one flu expert] explains. "They don't want outside groups making pronouncements and these getting into the press without being vetted by the ministries of health and agriculture."

Elsewhere, the problem can be scientific rivalry. Scientists in countries where avian flu has appeared often want to work on virus samples first so that they can get credit for their work. They also want to keep control of the data so they can use it to develop their own vaccines.

Via Nature.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:39 PM | Get permalink

Asking the hard questions.

In 2003 and 2004, photojournalist Molly Bingham spent 10 months in Iraq, working with UK journalist Steve Connors on a story about the resistance to US occupation that was just getting started. Her interest in the story was spurred largely by the fact that no other journalist had yet filed a story about the sources of the violence that was starting to sweep Iraq. Bingham's account of the Iraqi resistance was published in Vanity Fair in July 2004 — unfortunately, that article is not available online.

Bingham was no stranger to Iraq. While working there during the build-up to the invasion, she was arrested by Iraqi security and held for 18 days in Abu Ghraib. [She wrote about her prison stay here.] After her release, she went on file stories about Iraq for the NY Times, the UK Guardian, and others.

Photojournalist Molly Bingham

Photojournalist Molly Bingham

Bingham recently gave a speech on the lessons she learned from her reporting on the Iraqi resistance at Western Kentucky University. An adapted version of that speech was recently published in the Louisville Courier-Dispatch. Here are some excerpts:

Every one of the people involved in the resistance that we spoke to held us individually responsible for their security. If something happened to them -- never mind that they were legitimate targets for the U.S. military -- they would blame us. And kill us. We soon learned that they had the U.S. bases so well watched that we had to abandon our idea of working on the U.S. side of the story -- that is, discovering what the soldiers really thought about who might be attacking them. There were so many journalists working with the American soldiers that we believed that that story would be well told. More practically, if we were seen by the Iraqis going in and out of the American bases, we would be tagged immediately as spies, informants and most likely be killed.

As terrifying as that was to manage and work through, there was another fear that was just as bad. What if the American military or intelligence found out what we were working on? Would they tail us and round up the people we met? Would they kick down our door late one night, rifle through all our stuff and arrest us for "collaborating with the enemy?" Bear in mind that there are no real laws in Iraq. At the time that we were working, the American military was the law, and it seemed to me that they were pretty much making it up as they went along. I was pretty sure that if they wanted to "disappear" us, rough us up or even send us for an all expenses paid vacation in Guantánamo for suspected al-Qaida connections, they could do so with very little, or even no recourse on our part....

How many other American journalists, perhaps not as secure in their position as I, have thought to do a story and decided that it's too close to the bone, too questioning of the American government or its actions? How many times was the risk that our own government might come in and rifle through our apartment, our homes or take us away for questioning in front of our children a factor in our decision not to do a story? How many times did we as journalists decide not to do a story because we thought it might get us into trouble? Or, as likely, how often did the editor above us kill the story for the same reasons? Lots of column inches have been spent in the discussion of how our rights as Americans are being surreptitiously confiscated, but what about our complicity, as journalists, in that? It seems to me that the assault on free speech, while the fear and intimidation is in the air, comes as much from us -- as individuals and networks of journalists who censor ourselves -- as it does from any other source.

We need to wake up as individuals and as a community of journalists and start asking the hard and scary questions. Questions we may not really want to know the answers to about ourselves, about our government, about what is being done in our name, and hold the responsible individuals accountable through due process in our legal or electoral system.

We need to begin to be able to look again at our government, our leadership and ourselves critically. That is what the Fourth Estate is all about. That's what American journalism can do at its zenith. I also happen to believe that, in fact, that is the highest form of patriotism -- expecting our country to live up to the promises it makes and the values it purports to hold. The role of the media in assisting the public to ensure those values are reflected in reality is undeniably failing today.

Bingham had much more to say, and we highly recommend reading the entire speech.

You can view a huge number of Bingham's photos if you go to the World Picture News website and then do a search on 'Molly Bingham.'

Via Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:29 PM | Get permalink

Let's screw the poor people. Again.

From time to time, we like to call your attention to news reports in which the real story is buried somewhere in the middle of a bunch of less important information. Today, we found a good example in the business press.

More than forty US cities have a business paper owned by American City Business Journals. Where this magpie lives, the paper is the Portland Business Journal. Each paper has a daily feature on entrepreneurs — which, incidentally, is sponsored by MasterCard.

Today's entrepreneur story focuses on the success of a San Francisco business called RentPayment. The company was founded in the late 1990s, and makes its money by providing a service that allows tenants to pay move-in deposits and monthly rent using a credit card. For each transaction, RentPayment collects a fee.

While the article focuses on the convenience that RentPayment provides: Landlords can accept credit cards without transaction charges; tenants can have put move-in deposits and rent on plastic. Only the tenants pay a fee, of course.

Buried in the middle of the article is, as Frank Zappa used to say, the crux of the biscuit:

RentPayment used to charge a convenience fee of 2.95 percent to the tenant, but will adopt a flat fee model of $12.95 per transaction starting next month. This means a big boost in revenue from lower rent areas where the market is developing rapidly.

Let's take each of these sentences in turn.

In the first, we see that while RentPayment's fees used to be based on the amount of rent paid, the company is now charging a flat fee. To show the effects of this change, let's take two hypothetical renters, one paying US $1800 a month and the other paying US $600 a month. Under the old 2.95% fee, the renters would pay US $53.10 and US $17.70 to RentPayment each month. Under the new schedule, both tenants pay $12.95. While they both pay less in monthly fees, it's obvious who gets the greater benefit from the change: the higher-income renter. Kind of like Dubya's changes to the income tax, isn't it?

But it's the second sentence that's the really scary one, and which shows where RentPayment's services are really being aimed. When the article talks about the company expecting a 'big boost in revenues' from expansion into 'lower rent areas,' what it really means is that the company is looking to make money off people who are more likely than higher-income renters to have trouble making their rent payments each month. Now, those tenants will be able to charge their rent, piling up both fees and unsecured debt.

While this magpie wouldn't put RentPayment in the same class of business as "rent-to-own" companies or payday loan outfits, it's clear to us that the company is largely in the same business: charging poor people for the misfortune of being poor. The Business Journal puff piece on RentPayment managed to avoid even the faintest hint that making it possible for people to put their rent payment on plastic could be a form of exploitation. But then, we wouldn't expect something upleasant like that to appear in a section of the paper sponsored by a credit card company, would we?

You can find RentPayment's website here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:44 AM | Get permalink

US National Park Service raises outsourcing stakes.

For some time, some functions at national parks have been contracted out to private companies. Now, however, the Park Service is considering outsourcing entire national parks.

Via South Knox Bubba.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 AM | Get permalink

Breaking news!

This just in:

Darwin gives up!

Via BartCop.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Why hasn't the LA media picked up on this story?

As near as we can tell, only some art-oriented LA blogs are reporting about how the LAPD raided and closed down an art exhibit in late April. The 'Mark of the Beast' exhibit was organized by the Transport Gallery and featured (among other things) parodies of corporate logos. Transport Gallery claims that the police said that they were closing down the show because of its 'agressive and offensive' nature.

'Mark of the Beast' exhibit

'Offensive and aggressive' exhibit?

The best account of the incident we could find comes from the blog, Art for a Change.

This past April I received an invite to attend an art opening at the Transport Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. The show, titled Mark of the Beast, was scheduled for one night only on April 23rd, 2005, at the small gallery space located in the Factory Place art colony. Graphic artist Brandy Flower curated the show, which consisted of recognizable corporate logos that had been reworked to reveal - or unveil - the truth behind the corporate propaganda. The spoof ads ranged from the GAP (transformed into GAG), to the red white and blue CHEVRON oil company emblem (transformed into SHAME ON). The promotional material advertised the show as running from 7 to 11 in the evening. I wanted to be present at this one night exhibit, but instead decided to stay at home to work on a new series of oil paintings. It wasn?t until May 8th that someone told me the Los Angeles Police Department had raided and closed down the exhibit...

Might the police raid have had something to do with the content and objective of the show? Perhaps they read the following from the exhibit?s advance publicity and decided the good citizens of LA needed to be protected from artistic subversion:

Capitalist Globalization is no longer an evil threat but a dark reality in the 21st century. Multinational companies condition the consuming masses with lies, deception and manipulation in the form of advertising tricks and fetishized logos. These mega-corporations have infiltrated the world's governments, created legislation in their favor, and become global superpowers. Today, this misappropriation of authority has dealt us states of international conflict, a plundering of nature and its resources, imbalances in the global economy, and a tangled web of disinformation. For one night in downtown Los Angeles, we will hold a conscious happening, aimed directly at the issues of consumerism and alternative globalization. Please come out and support in hopes that together we can find truth amongst the many lies....

According to the Transport Gallery, towards the end of the night?s festivities at precisely 10:40 pm, the LAPD arrived and closed the event due to the "aggressive and offensive" nature of the show?s content. Witnesses tell of up to four squad cars arriving at the gallery to make sure the venue closed its doors. While this writer was not present at the exhibit, others, including those who run the art space, attest to a calm atmosphere where there were no drugs, guns, or violence of any kind. Photos of the evening?s festivities showing an appreciative crowd enjoying the artworks have been posted to the Transport Gallery?s website and make plain the passive nature of those gathered. [You can see those photos here.] Furthermore, no arrests were made, which appears to discount police claims of an "aggressive" incident needing police intervention....

Logo parodies

Reworked logos from 'Mark of the Beast' exhibit

If the information above is accurate, the LAPD have some explaining to do. As does the LA media, which apparently hasn't considered the story important enough to cover.

Do any readers in LA know more about all of this?

Via Electrolite.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:13 AM | Get permalink

What if they passed a law and nobody obeyed it?

That could wind up being the situation with the RealID Act, which is about to be passed by the US Congress. [We posted about the Act last week.] The act turns state-issued driver's licenses into de facto national ID cards ? cards that everyone living (or working) in the US will need after 2008 to buy a plane ticket, open a bank account, collect government benefits, or use a wide range of government services. The act has been passed despite strong opposition from a range of civil liberties and immigrant-rights groups.

It turns out, though, that the act one more hurdle to pass: the states. According to the AP, some state governors are threatening to challenge the RealID Act in court and, possibly, to refuse to cooperate with the act's driver's license requirements. Governors are worried that the act is another unfunded federal mandate, and that the states will get stuck with the tab for implementing all of the new license format and ID-verification rules.

States fear the new rules may force applicants to make more than one trip to motor vehicle departments, once to provide documents such as birth certificates that states must verify and a second time to pick up the license, state officials said.

"What passed is something that will be an enormous amount of work and it's questionable what it's going to yield," said Democrat Matt Dunlap, Maine's secretary of state. "Is it going to yield national security or is it going to be hassle for people already complying with the law?" [...]

Some states already have been increasing their license requirements, but their work may not be enough.

Maine's motor vehicle department is upgrading its computer system. But the upgrade doesn't include computer coding to comply with at least one of the new rules: ensure driver's licenses issued to temporary legal residents expire when the resident's authorized time in the U.S. is up.

"That adds to the cost and throws everything into the woods," Dunlap said.

Virginia's motor vehicle department estimated it would have to spend $237 million to comply with the bill passed by the House if it maintains its current level of customer service. Some changes to the final legislation could alter the estimate, a spokeswoman said.

The governors are right to worrry about who pays the bill for the RealID Act. While the law will let the Homeland Security Department offer grants to help states comply, it doesn't require that aid be given — and it certainly doesn't provide any money.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:24 AM | Get permalink

This article is not a joke.

It's really scary.

In my position as the director of a rehabilitation ministry for troubled teenage girls, I receive phone calls daily from desperate parents all across the United States. They have children for whom all hope seems to be gone because they did not start the use of the rod of correction while there was hope as the Scriptures mandated. I do not mean to discourage parents with older teenagers, who have suddenly been exposed to God's inspired instructions in this matter. As long as you have a child under your authority and your home where you can directly supervise and correct him, there still is hope that you may turn that child from his wicked ways and break his will. You may still teach him to submit to authority in his life.

A good illustration of this hope is found in the case of a mother who called me from a distant state about her troubled teenage daughter. This teenager had gotten into such continual mischief and wickedness that the desperate mother went to the local hardware store and purchased a lock and chain with which to lock the girl to her body. This unorthodox measure kept the girl in her home at night but fell far short of Scriptural methodology in changing the heart! I explained to the mother that we did not have room to receive the girl at the time because our beds were filled. However, I mentioned that I could give her a possible answer for her predicament. I also said, "But I doubt that you will follow through." The mother, hearing that there might be a solution to her crisis, desperately implored, "Yes, I will take your counsel. What is your solution?" I then proceeded to explain that the mother should get a stick that would not break and get after that daughter until the daughter asked for peace in their relationship. The mother hesitated in silence for a time on that long distance telephone call, and then seemingly made a firm commitment before me and the Lord that she would do so. She answered, "Alright, I will!" I then forgot about the mother and her call inasmuch as we receive several calls like this daily.

Three weeks later, I received a phone call from this same mother. I had forgotten who she was and was reminded of her identity only when she reminded me of the lock and chain she had purchased to secure her daughter. I remembered who she was at that point since that was a unique method of restraining the girl. I asked, "Well, what has happened since our last conversation?" The mother replied that she had taken my advice to secure a large stick that would not break, and to quote the mother, "I wore off her behind!" I chuckled at the mother's response and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the story. She went on to explain that she was simply amazed and dumbfounded at her daughter's change of heart following the severe thrashing that the mother gave her. It seems that the daughter, for the first time in sixteen years, chose to obey her mother when she realized that the mother was unflinchingly determined to break the girl's will and to settle for nothing less than complete obedience. The mother then said, "And it has lasted for three weeks! But I think she needs it again this week." This dramatic illustration of how one mother solved the problem of breaking the will of her daughter points up how God's methods really can and do work. But a parent must be fully purposed and determined in his heart that he will obey God no matter what the consequences.

We're just a magpie, but it seems to us that something is very wrong with anyone who trawls the Bible looking for scriptural justification for beating the shit out of children. And there's something even more wrong with them if they try convince other people to beat their kids, too.

Via Alas, a Blog.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:11 AM | Get permalink

The £50 note.

Or the 50-punt note, to be more correct.

Courtesy of Gordon.Coale, we found these images of pre-Euro Irish banknotes. For obvious reasons, the back of the 50-punt note caught our attention:

Irish 50-punt note

Obviously, the image of the man playing uilleann pipes had to come from somewhere and, after googling for awhile, we found the photograph that was obviously used by the engraver who made the plate for the bank note:

Uillean piper George McCarthy

Photo: National Library of Ireland

The piper is George McCarthy from County Cavan. The photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century. For you pipers, the set he's playing was made by Michael Egan, although Francis O'Neill said in his Irish Minstrels and Musicians that McCarthy usually favored a fine silver-mounted Taylor set.

Our guess is that the engraver used a mirror image of McCarthy's photo when preparing the plate for the bank note. We especially like how the chair McCarthy was sitting on was replaced by a mossy rock, and how the stool — and the pint of Guiness atop it — disappeared entirely.

The photo of McCarthy comes from the Lawrence Collection — a set of 40,000 glass plate negatives made between 1870 and 1914. The images show scenes of that period from locations throughout Ireland. Most of them were taken by a photographer named Robert French.

You can find information about the Lawrence Collection and other major photo collections at the National Library of Ireland if you go here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 AM | Get permalink

Monday, May 9, 2005

Church? State? Who cares?

These folks are creepy.

Doing the lord's work

If you are tired of secularists telling you that The Lord has no place
in our government and our public institutions, then show them that
you disagree.

Make sure to check out the letters, and the links in the Resources list.

Via MetaFilter.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:44 PM | Get permalink

When we were a younger magpie ...

... we detested high school, in part because of the many stupid rules regarding student conduct, which were usually applied mindlessly.

From the following AP report, it appears that things haven't changed much.

A high school student was suspended for 10 days for refusing to end a mobile phone call with his mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, school officials said.

The 10-day suspension was issued because Kevin Francois was "defiant and disorderly" and was imposed in lieu of an arrest, Spencer High School assistant principal Alfred Parham said.

The confrontation Wednesday began after the 17-year-old junior got a call at lunchtime from his mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, who left in January for a one-year tour with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion.

Mobile phones are allowed on campus but may not be used during school hours. When a teacher told him to hang up, he refused. He said he told the teacher, "This is my mom in Iraq. I'm not about to hang up on my mom."

Via little red cookbook.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:26 AM | Get permalink

Lady in distress.

Tom Tomorrow's latest is just brilliant.

Lady Liberty in trouble

Read the whole strip here.

Via Salon.

[Paid sub. or ad view req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:44 AM | Get permalink

Update on the time travelers convention.

It happened as scheduled at MIT on Saturday. By all accounts, a great time was had by all. There was music, food, lectures, and a smoke machine — but no time travelers.

Unless, of course, they were incognito.

Via Wired.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:31 AM | Get permalink

Buried gold.

Sometimes the most interesting part isn't obvious. For example, today's Globe & Mail has a report on a new poll showing how Canadians' attitudes toward the US are souring. While the poll did indeed show that Canadian feelings toward the US have cooled considerably in the last couple of years, that wasn't all it showed.

Buried among all the figures on how 1000 people in Canada and 1000 people south of the border responded to a series of questions was this gem:

 If a family member was hospitalized, I would be worried about how to pay for it.   AgreeDisagree
 CANADA 36%63%

If Canada's national health care system is so awful — as US opponents of health care reform like to claim — how come all those Canadians don't worry about paying for hospitalization?

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:04 AM | Get permalink

We couldn't come up with a 'Man Bites Dog' story today.

But we did find this one:

     Chicken ticketed for crossing road

Via AP.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:55 AM | Get permalink

Stalking the low-tech whistle.

When we first started trying to play Irish traditional music, we were attracted to the tin whistle because of its low cost, availability, and ease of learning. Leaving aside the question of whether the whistle is easy to learn (it isn't), we were faced with the difficulties posed by the fact that the only whistles available then were Clarkes and Generations. Neither make is, to put it politely, known for consistent quality. Although some whistles made by either company manufacturer can be quite fine indeed (especially if tweaked, you have to sort through a lot of so-so and outright bad whistles to find them.

These days, there are better (and more expensive) whistles to be had than there were when this magpie last looked for one. But, depending on where you live, even the cheap whistles may be hard — if not impossible — to find.

One person who's had trouble finding a good whistle is Guido Gonzato, who lives in Verona, Italy. Verona is not known as a hotbed of traditional Irish music, so finding any whistle took some work. Gonzato went through trials and tribulations in trying to find a decent instrument, and he finally got one that he liked only after he decided to make it himself.

Low-tech whistle

I started playing the tin whistle in the winter of 2004, and like many beginners I suffered from Whistle Obsessive Acquisition Disorder. The problem was, I couldn't find a whistle I really felt comfortable with. How can you possibly play an instrument you don't like?

In my view, the reason for WOAD is twofold. First of all, the poor quality of many low-cost whistles: you're forced to try out several whistles until you're lucky enough to find a good one. This is not a problem if you can go to a music shop and try before you buy. Secondly, I found out that whistles are not like recorders, which more or less share a similar sound. A Susato, a Dixon and a Clarke Sweetone are completely different instruments, each with its own character and peculiarities.

Another problem is that I have a good musical ear, and I can't stand badly tuned instruments. This is often an issue with low-cost whistles....

Driven by frustration, I decided I'd try and make a whistle myself. However, I had no power tools like an electric drill, a vice, and what have you. Most whistle making tutorials assume that you use copper tubing - hard luck, without proper tools. PVC is widely available though, so I decided I'd give it a try.

After some experiments (all of which, amazingly, produced playable whistles), I've come up with a design that is easy to reproduce and works very well. I call it the "Low-Tech Whistle" because I only use very simple tools and materials.

The full (illustrated) instructions are here. Even we could follow them.


| | Posted by Magpie at 12:29 AM | Get permalink

Sunday, May 8, 2005

End times alert!

The Number of the Beast isn't 666. It's 616.


Via Religious News Blog and Follow Me Here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:22 PM | Get permalink

Dubya scores another foreign policy success.

While Dubya has been invading Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, and chiding the Russians for their Cold War-era occupation of the Baltic states, guess what's happened? North Korea may now have a half-dozen nuclear weapons. That's the word from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradi, who has some idea what he's talking about.

"We knew they had the plutonium that could be converted into five or six North Korea weapons," he said.

"We know that they had the industrial infrastructure to weaponize this plutonium. We have read also that they have the delivery system."

North Korea has not tested a nuclear device, but recent satellite images indicate Pyongyang may be making preparations for one, a Defense Department official said Friday.

We'll be polite and not mention Bill Clinton's successful efforts in the 1990s to get North Korea to put its nuclear weapons program on hold. And we certainly won't be rude enough to mention how the North Koreans re-started that program after Dubya's administration showed little interest in negotiating with the North over the issue.

Via CNN.

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:23 PM | Get permalink

What happens to bad ideas after they're tossed out?

If you're Dubya's administration, you just wait awhile and float the bad idea again:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week floated an idea to start a nonprofit group that would collect information on private citizens, flag suspicious activity, and send names of suspicious people to his department.

Remind you of anything? Perhaps this?

TIA logo

Original TIA logo

Via and LISNews.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:44 PM | Get permalink

Aljazeera gets some respect.

While Washington likes to claim that the wonderful example of post-invasion Iraq has led people in other Middle Eastern countries to demand democracy from their own governments, a surprisingly complimentary article in today's Washington Post points to a more likely ally of reform: Aljazeera.

While officials in Dubya's administration complain about how the Arab news network supposedly distorts the news and aids terrorists, a report from another part of the government — the US Institute of Peace — says that Aljazeera and its imitators in the region are a major force for political change in the Middle East.

Aljazeera on the air

"It is the satellite channels that show the greatest potential for ushering in political change in the region . . ." the report says. "Inadvertently or not, they offer a locus for the Arab street to vent, formulate and discuss public affairs. They bring Arabs closer together, breaking taboos and generally competing with each other and their respective governments for the news agenda. All in all, Arab satellite stations have pushed ajar the door of democracy and flanked state monopoly on media."

The praise for Aljazeera is echoed by both Arab and US analysts, who say that the network provides a voice to reformers that local governments cannot silence:

In January, it saturated the airwaves with coverage of the Palestinian and Iraqi elections. After the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February, it aired 10 straight hours of footage from Lebanon as street protesters demanded the ouster of the country's government and Syria's troops.

It deployed four correspondents to report on the Egyptian reform movement known as Kifaya, or Enough, this spring. And it has run long stories on Kuwait's new women's suffrage movement and Morocco's commission on human rights abuses and missing people.

"During the last weeks, everyone is talking about change, reform, political transformation and democracy in the Arab world," said Wadah Khanfar, al-Jazeera's managing director, who studied in South Africa during its political transformation. "The realities are changing, and so is what is dominating the news -- Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco. The whole discussion taking place in the region has found itself on our screen."

In a move the network says will expand regional debate on democracy, al-Jazeera last month launched a 24-hour Arab equivalent of C-SPAN. "Al-Jazeera Live" has run parliamentary doings in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, as well as President Bush's recent speech on the energy bill, a news conference by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and daily White House and State Department briefings.

Teams of workers are building a vast extension at the back of al-Jazeera's building, mainly to house a 24-hour English-language channel due to be launched later this year. It will broadcast four hours each from Washington, London and Malaysia and 12 hours from its headquarters here. [You can read more about the planned English-language service in this earlier post.]

Aljazeera's coverage of its region hasn't made enemies only in Washington. The list of Middle Eastern countries that have banned its reporters is growing: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tunisia have pulled up the welcome mat, as has that paragon of Mideast democracy, Iraq. Iran has suspended Aljazeera's rights to broadcast from its territory because of the Iranian government's displeasure with the network's recent reports on unrest among the country's Arab minority.

Arab leaders have never much liked the network. When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited its headquarters, he commented in an aside to his Qatari host, "All this trouble from a matchbox!" according to al-Jazeera staff.

Aljazeera's English-language news site is here.

Thanks to Muslim Wake Up! for providing the Aljazeera image used in this post.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:41 AM | Get permalink

Peter Rodino, 1909–2005

Former chair of the US House Judiciary Committee Peter Rodino, Jr died in his home in New Jersey on Saturday. He was 95.

During the Watergate years, Rodino rose from relative obscurity in the House to lead the House impeachment proceedings against then President Richard Nixon.

Rep. Peter Rodino and John Dean

Peter Rodino (left) and John Dean, 1974
[Photo: Corbis-Bettmann/UPI]

From the NY Times obituary:

On Oct. 20, 1973 - 16 months and three days after five men with ties to the White House were arrested for breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington - President Nixon had Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, fired after Mr. Cox had subpoenaed secret presidential tapes.

In what became known as "the Saturday Night Massacre," the president ordered Elliot L. Richardson, his attorney general, to fire Mr. Cox, but Mr. Richardson resigned rather than carry out the instruction. When William D. Ruckelshaus, who was Mr. Richardson's deputy at the Justice Department, was given the same command, he, too, resigned.

Robert H. Bork was then named acting attorney general, and he carried out the president's wishes.

Mr. Rodino, a 64-year-old representative from New Jersey with a voice like Gene Kelly's, had been chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for only nine months. For 26 years, he had been a stalwart of the Essex County Democratic organization, an unassuming congressman who had quietly won 13 consecutive elections, thriving in a constituency in Newark that had gone from being an Italian and Portuguese enclave to one in which black residents had gained the balance of power.

He had compiled a liberal voting record, and pushed hard for civil rights and immigration reform. But he was hardly known outside his district, and his elevation as chairman had resulted not from merit but from congressional seniority rules. His best-known piece of legislation was the bill that had made Columbus Day a national holiday.

When Congress reconvened after the Veterans Day weekend that followed the "massacre," the word "impeachment" was being uttered with the utmost seriousness....

In the fall of 1973, the country was sharply divided over President Nixon's role in the scandals. It was by no means certain that anyone in Washington could steer an impeachment inquiry safely past the hazards of partisan politics. Grave doubts were raised over Mr. Rodino's qualifications, even within his own party.

Carl Albert, the Democratic speaker of the House, suggested that instead of Mr. Rodino's Judiciary Committee, the House should form a select, high-powered committee of prominent members to take up the impeachment inquiry.

Mr. Rodino flatly opposed that idea, and Thomas P. O'Neill, the Democratic majority leader, gave him his support, though he, too, was not free of doubt....

As the country was soon to learn, Mr. Rodino's way meant great patience, caution, enormous energy, and fairness above all. In his first major decision he chose as the committee's special counsel John Doar, the former civil rights troubleshooter for the Justice Department who 10 years earlier had nudged Gov. George Wallace out of a schoolhouse door where he had been blocking the enrollment of black students in Alabama.

They formed a powerful team: Mr. Rodino, a short, streetwise Democrat, a child of immigrants who had gone to law school at night, and Mr. Doar, a rangy, laconic Republican from Wisconsin who had gone to Princeton and served two presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy. They soon hired 105 staff members, among them a 26-year-old lawyer named Hillary Rodham.

Mr. Rodino set a brutal tempo, rising at 6:30 in the morning and working until 2 in the morning. By February, exhaustion forced him into Bethesda Naval Hospital for six days.

He pored over the already enormous Watergate record. Three times over he read a history of the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson, and he studied the writings of Edmund Burke, the 18th-century English conservative who had urged that any process of impeachment should rest "not upon the niceties of a narrow jurisprudence, but upon the enlarged and solid principles of state morality."

On May 9, 1974, when the hearings began, he was ready. Including the chairman, there were 21 Democrats and 17 Republicans on the committee. From the beginning, Mr. Rodino recalled, he had seen his role as teacher, negotiator, leader and symbol. He urged the members to refrain from grandstanding, but only rarely did he gavel anyone into silence.

"I know we're sometimes weak-kneed, and sometimes political," he said of the committee. "But I really believe this is an instance when we can demonstrate that the system does work."

On July 24, as the nation gathered around television sets to watch the committee's final deliberations, the critical question was whether enough Republican members would favor impeachment to parry the White House's charges of partisanship.

The first article of impeachment charged President Nixon with forms of obstructing justice by including such acts as making false statements, withholding evidence, condoning the counseling of witnesses, approving payments to witnesses, and trying to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency. It was passed by a bipartisan vote of 27 to 11, with six Republicans favoring impeachment.

A second article, recommending impeachment for abuse of power, specified such charges as attempting to initiate tax audits for political purposes, ordering and misusing secret wiretaps, and permitting the operation of a White House unit engaged in covert and unlawful activities. It was approved by a bipartisan vote of 28 to 10, with seven Republicans joining in the majority.

A third article, charging that the president had sought to impede due process by refusing to comply with subpoenas from the committee that sought tapes of White House conversations, was approved, but only on party lines. Two other articles, one charging the president with usurping the war powers of Congress by secretly bombing Cambodia, and the other questioning his claims of tax deductions and compensation for maintenance of his private estates, were both defeated by 26-12 margins. Mr. Rodino voted yes on all but the article involving tax and expense claims.

Three days after the voting ended, on Aug. 5, President Nixon admitted that more than two years earlier, on June 17, 1972, he had ordered a halt in an F.B.I. investigation of the break-in of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate and that he had kept this secret from investigating bodies, his own counsel and the public. Though he said these facts did not justify the extreme step of impeachment, the disclosure led the 10 Republican members of Mr. Rodino's committee who had voted against the first three recommendations for impeachment to announce that they would reverse themselves, in effect making the decision to move toward impeachment unanimous.

After being advised of this, President Nixon, on the evening of Aug 8, 1974, told a television audience of some 130 million people that he was resigning effective the next day.

"It has been an ordeal - for President Nixon and for all our people," Mr. Rodino said in a statement. "I know it was necessary. I believe our laws and our system will be stronger for it. I hope we will all be better for it. These past months have been the most solemn of our lives."

During his 19 terms in Congress, Rodina was a main sponsor and the floor manager for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and author of the Voting Rights Extension Act of 1982. After leaving the House, Rodino became a professor at Seton Hall's law school, where he continued as a lecturer until very recently.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:35 AM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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