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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
| | 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.
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
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.'
[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.
| | 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".
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.
"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...."
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.
[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.
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
And that photo barely scratches the surface.
| | 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....
| | 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
Vintage bicycle posters!
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.
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?
| | Posted by Magpie at 8:12 PM | Get permalink
Whoa! Here's a big surprise.
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.
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.
| | 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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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?
| | 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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
If you are tired of secularists telling you that The Lord has no place
Make sure to check out the letters, and the links in the Resources list.
| | 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.
Via little red cookbook.
| | Posted by Magpie at 11:26 AM | Get permalink
Lady in distress.
Tom Tomorrow's latest is just brilliant.
Read the whole strip here.
[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.
| | Posted by Magpie at 10:31 AM | Get permalink
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 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
| | 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.
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?
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'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.
| | 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?
Via GovExec.com 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.
"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.
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, 19092005
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.
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.
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
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