Friday, October 28, 2005

Vaginas are scary

Aha! That got your attention. Well evidently vaginas are scary because several states have pulled the October issue of Seventeen Magazine for "explicit content."
Concerned about the two-page "Vagina 101" section, the chain's Intermountain Division pulled the magazines from shelves this week. Some Tucson parents support Albertson's, but a number of students and women's rights advocates say the move is remnant of opposition to the 1970s' women's health movement. The magazine's section on yeast and urinary tract infections, vaginal discharge and pubic hair is meant to educate girls about their bodies. Three pictures have stirred surprise. The first is a color drawing labeling eight parts of the vagina. The second and third are photographs of vaginas.

"We received information that some of the material was relatively explicit with regards to the female anatomy," said Danielle Killpack, the division's public affairs director in Oregon. The division's leadership ordered all stores to remove the magazines from shelves in a dozen states, including Utah, New Mexico and Washington...

In a statement released yesterday, Seventeen defended its publication, saying its writers address issues that concern readers. "They see this magazine as a trusted friend so we talk about subjects that are important to them in an open and objective way and provide basic information and resources for them to find out more," the statement said...

Some girls' parents don't even talk to them about that," said Palmer, 16, a Tucson High School junior. "That's all medical stuff, and you can actually gain something from it," the regular Seventeen reader said. Palmer said she couldn't understand why "medical information" was considered offensive but "it's OK when they're showing girls half-dressed."

Briggs, who teaches in UA's women's studies department, said women can be healthy only when they know what is clinically OK and should raise red flags. She wonders, for instance, how many young women know that a yeast infection may signal diabetes or HIV - which the magazine discusses. "It's sort of amazing that we think that if we tell teenagers nothing about sex and their bodies, they will be better off," she said. "And magically, when they turn 18, they're supposed to get married and have a healthy sex life." Also a parent of a 17-year-old daughter, Briggs said she would like young women to know and learn more about their bodies. "I can't think of any reason not to share photos of vaginas with teenagers," Briggs said. "Really, what's the goal? Is the goal that they should never look at their own vagina and not know about it?"
Evidently, girls should be ashamed of their special no no place.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws as Nominee

Another example of how Dubya knows how to choose 'em.
She was reprimanded by Senators for giving "incomplete to insulting" answers to written questions.

The withdrawal of Ms Miers is seen as a significant blow to Mr Bush.

Her decision comes amid tense times for the White House, which is currently waiting for news on possible indictments of senior administration figures in connection with a CIA leak case.

Mr Bush's approval ratings have meanwhile been plummeting, and his apparent inability to push his choice through is thought likely to raise fresh concerns as to what he can achieve in his second term.
...
Ms Miers' nomination had drawn criticism from both sides of the political divide.

Conservative Republicans were sceptical of Ms Miers' suitability for the court on ideological grounds.

Several questioned her attitudes on the touchstone issue of abortion, while others doubted her understanding of constitutional law.

Democrat opponents accused the president of cronyism, pointing to personal memos sent during Mr Bush's days as governor of Texas as evidence that her friendship with the president was her chief qualification for the job.
My question is, was Roberts so much more direct in his answers to deserve his nomination? I only read or saw parts of his testimony but he was so often vague and dodgy that it was disturbing.

The Onion Pisses Off the Whitehouse

It's been a long time since we posted something even mildly amusing but this is pretty silly. A personal fave of ours here at Just To The Left, The Onion, is really annoying the Whitehouse by using the President's seal on their website. They have mock weekly presidential radio addresses and they use the presidential seal for links to the audio clips.
With headlines like "Bush To Appoint Someone To Be In Charge Of Country" and "Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion," The Onion is popular with readers looking for a little laughter with their politics.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said people who work in the executive mansion do have a sense of humor, but not when it comes to breaking regulations.
Please! Like they don't have more important things to worry about...

Google Book Scanning and Copyrights

Here's an update from news.com on Google's ambitious plans to scan as many books as possible to make the text available through Google search. The article points out some noteworthy facets of copyright law so it makes for some good reading. Here's the meat of the controversy:
The controversial part of the Print Program, which has prompted two lawsuits so far, is the Print Library Project. Under the Library Project, the search giant is scanning, digitizing and making searchable parts or all of the collections from Stanford University, Harvard University, Oxford University, the University of Michigan and The New York Public Library.

Google says it will scan copyright protected books from libraries unless the publisher or copyright holder expressly opts out. If the book is copyright protected, there is minimal text, only a few sentences, or "snippets," surrounding the keywords searched. There are no ads on Google Library Project pages.

If the work is in the public domain, the entire page will be shown and people will be able to read the whole book. However, they will not be able to print or download the book, Google says.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This Can Only End Badly


Boy, it's been a crappy couple months huh? The good times don't seem like they'll ever end. Iran's president looks ready to start a ruckus by stating that Israel "must be wiped off the map." The UK's Foreign Office has already stated "the comments were 'deeply disturbing and sickening'".

[Thanks to Erick for the tip]

Wal-Mart update

We haven't posted a Wal-Mart story in some time and no, it's not because those bastards have turned to the light. Infact, they have been cooking up newer, more diabolical schemes to keep their employees down and offer you big, big savings!

An internal memo (a must read!) sent to Wal-Mart's board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer's reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.

In the memorandum, M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for benefits, also recommends reducing 401(k) contributions and wooing younger, and presumably healthier, workers by offering education benefits. The memo voices concern that workers with seven years' seniority earn more than workers with one year's seniority, but are no more productive.

To discourage unhealthy job applicants, Ms. Chambers suggests that Wal-Mart arrange for "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart gathering)."

The memo acknowledged that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had to walk a fine line in restraining benefit costs because critics had attacked it for being stingy on wages and health coverage. Ms. Chambers acknowledged that 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid... (Yes, the government subsidized insurance for low-income families. So if you hate taxes then you should hate Wal-Mart.)

The theme throughout the memo was how to slow the increase in benefit costs without giving more ammunition to critics who contend that Wal-Mart's wages and benefits are dragging down those of other American workers...

Acknowledging that Wal-Mart has image problems, Ms. Chambers wrote: "Wal-Mart's critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."...

Ms. Chambers's memo voiced concern that workers were staying with the company longer, pushing up wage costs, although she stopped short of calling for efforts to push out more senior workers. She wrote that "the cost of an associate with seven years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with one year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity. Moreover, because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market, increasing the likelihood that he or she will stay with Wal-Mart."

The memo noted that Wal-Mart workers "are getting sicker than the national population, particularly in obesity-related diseases," including diabetes and coronary artery disease. The memo said Wal-Mart workers tended to overuse emergency rooms and underuse prescriptions and doctor visits, perhaps from previous experience with Medicaid...

"It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier work force than it will be to change behavior in an existing one," the memo said. "These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families U.S.A., a health care consumer-advocacy group, criticized the memo for recommending that more workers move into health plans with high deductibles.

Should you ever wish to vicariously put yourself in the shoes of a Wal-Mart employee and see just why they are so overweight and sickly, pick up Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. (Big ups to my sis Athena who recommended the book to me.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Torture is OK?

Since December 10, 1948 when the heads of the civilized world came together to form the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, humanity has been striving to eliminate abuse, cruelty, and extreme forms of punishment. When the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was ratified in the late 1980s, the United States took the official stance that torture in any form is immoral and illegal. Now, in a most disturbing turn of events (not surprising, however, since the Sith Lords are controlling things, for now), the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Al Qaeda militants and other terrorists.

The Senate defied a presidential veto threat nearly three weeks ago and approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill that would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the United State government. This could bar some techniques that the C.I.A. has used in some interrogations overseas.

But in a 45-minute meeting last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss, urged Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who wrote the amendment, to support an exemption for the agency, arguing that the president needed maximum flexibility in dealing with the global war on terrorism, said two government officials who were briefed on the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the discussions.

Mr. McCain rejected the proposed exemption, which stated that the measure "shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack." ...

Human rights advocates said that creating parallel sets of interrogation rules for military personnel and clandestine intelligence operatives was impractical in the war on terrorism, where soldiers and spies routinely cross paths on a global battlefield and often share techniques "They are explicitly saying, for the first time, that the intelligence community should have the ability to treat prisoners inhumanely," Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said. "You can't tell soldiers that inhumane treatment is always morally wrong if they see with their own eyes that C.I.A. personnel are allowed to engage in it."

Now it appears that senators have struck a deal to revive the budget bill for Senate floor debate and action. One of the principal amendments that Democrats are expected to offer, sponsored by Senator Carl Levin, a Michgan Democrat, would create an independent commission to review accusations of prisoner abuse by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and elsewhere. The White House has also threatened a presidential veto if any bill comes to Mr. Bush's desk that contains the provision...

Stand up for Mrs. Parks

Rosa Parks, a black seamstress whose refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., almost 50 years ago grew into a mythic event that helped touch off the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, died yesterday at her home in Detroit. She was 92 years old...

For her act of defiance, Mrs. Parks was arrested, convicted of violating the segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system...

The events that began on that bus in the winter of 1955 captivated the nation and transformed a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. into a major civil rights leader. It was Dr. King, the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, who was drafted to head the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization formed to direct the nascent civil rights struggle.

"Mrs. Parks's arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest," Dr. King wrote in his 1958 book, "Stride Toward Freedom. "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."

Her act of civil disobedience, what seems a simple gesture of defiance so many years later, was in fact a dangerous, even reckless move in 1950's Alabama. In refusing to move, she risked legal sanction and perhaps even physical harm, but she also set into motion something far beyond the control of the city authorities. Mrs. Parks clarified for people far beyond Montgomery the cruelty and humiliation inherent in the laws and customs of segregation...

"She sat down in order that we might stand up," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said yesterday in an interview from South Africa. "Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors for our long journey to freedom."...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bizarro Olsen Twins ♥ Nazis

It sucks enough that people teach their kids to hate others based solely on race or ethnicity but when they use their kids to spread that, it's even worse. Check out these teenagers who have a song that reveres Nazi Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy:
Thirteen-year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede have one album out, another on the way, a music video, and lots of fans.

They may remind you another famous pair of singers, the Olsen Twins, and the girls say they like that. But unlike the Olsens, who built a media empire on their fun-loving, squeaky-clean image, Lamb and Lynx are cultivating a much darker personna. They are white nationalists and use their talents to preach a message of hate.

Known as "Prussian Blue" â€กฑ a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes â€กฑ the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."
[Thanks to bartcop.com for the link]

The Environmental Cost of Gold

Here's an extensive article from the NY Times on the invisible costs of obtaining gold. Unbelievably, in a typical case "100 tons or more of earth have to be excavated for a single ounce of gold."
The United States, the world's second-largest consumer of gold, is also the world's largest holder of gold reserves. The government has 8,134 tons secured in vaults, about $122 billion worth. The Federal Reserve and other major central banks renewed an agreement last year to severely restrict sales from their reserves, offering, in effect, a price support to gold.

That price is not simply a matter of supply and demand, but of market psychology. Gold is bought by anxious investors when the dollar is weak and the economy uncertain. That is a big reason for gold's high price today.

For miners that price determines virtually everything - where gold is mined, how much is mined, and how tiny are the flecks worth going after.

"You can mine gold ore at a lower grade than any other metal," said Mike Wireman, a mine specialist at the Denver office of the E.P.A. "That means big open pits. But it must also be easy and cheap to be profitable, and that means cyanide."

That kind of massive operation can be seen at Yanacocha, a sprawling mine in northern Peru run by Newmont. In a region of pastures and peasants, the rolling green hills have been carved into sandy-colored mesas, looking more like the American West than the Andean highlands.

Mountains have been systematically blasted, carted off by groaning trucks the size of houses and restacked into ziggurats of chunky ore. These new man-made mountains are lined with irrigation hoses that silently trickle millions of gallons of cyanide solution over the rock for years. The cyanide dissolves the gold so it can be separated and smelted.

At sites like Yanacocha, one ounce of gold is sprinkled in 30 tons of ore. But to get at that ore, many more tons of earth have to be moved, then left as waste. At some mines in Nevada, 100 tons or more of earth have to be excavated for a single ounce of gold, said Ann Maest, a geochemist who consults on mining issues.

Mining companies say they are meeting a demand and that this kind of gold mining, called cyanide heap leaching, is as good a use of the land as any, or better.

Cyanide is not the only option. But it is considered the most cost-effective way to retrieve microscopic bits of "invisible gold." Profit margins are too thin, miners say, and the gold left in the world too scarce to mine it any other way.

"The heap is cheaper," said Shannon W. Dunlap, an environmental manager with Placer Dome. "Our ore wouldn't work without the heap."

But much of those masses of disturbed rock, exposed to the rain and air for the first time, are also the source of mining's multibillion-dollar environmental time bomb. Sulfides in that rock will react with oxygen, making sulfuric acid.

That acid pollutes and it also frees heavy metals like cadmium, lead and mercury, which are harmful to people and fish even at low concentrations. The chain reaction can go on for centuries.

Finally, Transparency of Your Government

I love how we can simply use any random picture of Dick Cheney and it's obvious what we think of him. Here are some great quotes from Lawrence Wilkerson in a speech "to the New America Foundation, an independent public-policy institute in Washington."
Secretary of State Colin Powell's former chief of staff has offered a remarkably blunt criticism of the administration he served, saying that foreign policy had been usurped by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal," and that President Bush has made the country more vulnerable, not less, to future crises.
...
Mr. Wilkerson suggested that the dysfunction within the administration was so grave that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, said that in his years in or close to government, he had seen its national security apparatus twisted in many ways. But what he saw in Mr. Bush's first term "was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberration, bastardizations" and "perturbations."

"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues," he said.

NY Times Credibility

I almost hate to post this article from Slate.com cause Kat and I are really big fans of many aspects of the NY Times. Maybe it'll help reinforce the idea that we really try to have a balanced perspective on the information we take in and filter through this blog. Jack Shafer of Slate.com has some pretty scathing criticism of the NY Times over Judith Miller when couched in the context of events of recent years that call into question the integrity and accuracy of our country's most venerable news outlet.

While I always thought that Miller should be lauded for the journalistic principals she upheld by refusing to name her source in the Valerie Plame incident, her previous record is less than stellar as pointed out by Shafer.

Delay in Court

Tom Delay is finally in court and he's trying every trick to win every possible advantage in the hopes of gettin' some home cookin'. Can't say I wouldn't do the same if I had the means but it just sounds so shady. In particular, he's asking that the current judge recuse himself just because he's a documented democrat (he contributed to moveon.org and the Democratic National Committee).
DeLay has said he is eager for a quick trial to prove his innocence. But many lawyers here predict that the two principal motions filed by his legal team this week -- to force Perkins's withdrawal as judge and move the trial elsewhere in Texas, away from this Democratic bastion -- may put it on a slower track.

The lead prosecutor overseeing the probe, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, is fighting both requests. In a written statement, Earle said, "the logic behind the defendant's motion to recuse Judge Perkins would mean that no criminal defendant could be tried in a court presided over by a judge who did not belong to the defendant's political party." He added in the courtroom corridor Friday: "We don't live in a country where political party determines the measure of justice."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Not Enough Help for South Asian Quake Victims

The international relief response to the South Asian quake has been far less than what's needed according the the UN. If you can donate, help out by donating to them good folks at Unicef or the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Dirty Delay To Be Detained

OMG, I think I just creamed by my shorts. Finally, a vengeful God has answered my prayers -- a warrant has been issued for Tom Delay's arrest by a Texas court. I gotta TiVo the news over the next couple days just to see that ho-rag squirm. I really wish that someone would cuff him and bang his head into the side of a police cruiser at some point but that's highly unlikely as the warrant is really just a formality. He's expected to show up in court on Friday and the best we'll probably get is a silly mug shot.
Officials said the warrant is a routine step. But it means that before his court appearance, Mr DeLay is likely to be fingerprinted and photographed.
[Update 10/24/05: Dang, as noted by ABC News, we didn't even get an interesting mug shot! In fact, it's suspiciously benign!]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

Technology Is Ruining Our Lives


Here's a somewhat long article from the NY Times Magazine on how experts strive to optimize the delivery and recognition of information. The article mentions how distracted people are in the modern workplace because of the very things that help us get our jobs done (e-mail, cell phones, etc). A UC Irvine group conducted a study where they looked over the shoulders of workers at 2 West Coast companies:
Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What's more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task. To perform an office job today, it seems, your attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching down only periodically.
Coincidentally, CNN has an article that mentions a related point on how technology that keeps us connected can be psychologically unhealthy. Geoffrey Bowker is
executive director of Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology and Society, which studies technology's impact on culture.
...
"This is always the case with new technology. Often the effects are paradoxical," Bowker said. "The overall upside is that we can maintain a rich social and cultural life while dashing from pillar to post. The overall downside is that our spiritual development -- which requires empty time, contemplation -- is suffering enormously."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pulling back the curtain (again) on the Great Oz

We all know about Bush's love of photo ops, and his blatantly rehearsed and choreographed speeches and press conferences. But here's a little more flame to the fire:

It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday’s vote on a new Iraqi constitution.

“This is an important time,” Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived. “The president is looking forward to having just a conversation with you.”

Barber said the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops.

As she spoke in Washington, a live shot of 10 soldiers from the Army’s 42nd Infantry Division and one Iraqi soldier was beamed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from Tikrit â€กฑ the birthplace of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“I’m going to ask somebody to grab those two water bottles against the wall and move them out of the camera shot for me,” Barber said.

A brief rehearsal ensued.

“OK, so let’s just walk through this,” Barber said. “Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?”

“Captain Smith,” Kennedy said.

“Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?” she asked. “Captain Kennedy,” the soldier replied.

And so it went.

“If the question comes up about partnering â€กฑ how often do we train with the Iraqi military â€กฑ who does he go to?” Barber asked.

“That’s going to go to Captain Pratt,” one of the soldiers said.

“And then if we’re going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit â€กฑ the hometown â€กฑ and how they’re handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?” she asked.

Before he took questions, Bush thanked the soldiers for serving and reassured them that the United States would not pull out of Iraq until the mission was complete.

“So long as I’m the president, we’re never going to back down, we’re never going to give in, we’ll never accept anything less than total victory,” Bush said. The president told them twice that the American people were behind them.

“You’ve got tremendous support here at home,” Bush said.

Less than 40 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in October said they approved of the way Bush was handling Iraq. Just over half of the public now say the Iraq war was a mistake.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday’s event was coordinated with the Defense Department but that the troops were expressing their own thoughts. With satellite feeds, coordination often is needed to overcome technological challenges, such as delays, he said...

Paul Rieckhoff, director of the New York-based Operation Truth, an advocacy group for U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, denounced the event as a “carefully scripted publicity stunt.” Five of the 10 U.S. troops involved were officers, he said. “If he wants the real opinions of the troops, he can’t do it in a nationally televised teleconference,” Rieckhoff said. “He needs to be talking to the boots on the ground and that’s not a bunch of captains.”

Nascar Shame

Being a New Yorker, of immigrate parents, living in Brooklyn, growing up in the public school system, I can't seem to relate to many of the pastimes of red-state/heartland/suburban (a.k.a white) America. (In case your wondering, yes I am white.) Case in point â€กฐ Nascar. Something about the "sport" has always left a bad taste in my mouth. It's not the cool cars, it's not the car race, it's not the celebrity drivers, but this Village Voice article Why America Loves NASCAR (Hint: Because it's not black) finally nailed the problem.
By saying NASCAR isn't black, I mean it isn't African American. And NASCAR is not at all black: Not in the cockpits of the stockcars; not on the pit crews; rarely, if at all, among the multitudes filling the 160,000-seat speedway stands. It's considered an all-American sport, inclusive and meritocratic, but to see it on TV or in person, it does have a certain flavor.

Not all of America loves NASCAR. It's mostly those who live in the "red" swath of middle America, an area that includes the South and the Southwest and that helped elect George Bush last November. These are the ones who punched Dubya's chad, the ones who did so purportedly as a vote for "values." So significant is this group that television networks are increasingly gearing their programming toward it.

Last fall, ESPN presented a biopic on the life of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. The movie, 3, casts Earnhardt (Barry Pepper) as the idealized "American Everyman." He grows up in blue-collar poverty, with racing as his single-minded passion (father-inspired). Neither love (women, inexplicably, are drawn to him like country singers to whining lyrics) nor children (he fathers a passel, abandoning some with brooding regret but no apparent damage done to any of the parties involved) can keep him out of the cockpit and away from his destiny with all-American herodom. Throughout he remains blissfully unaware (and, remarkably, utterly untouched) by the historical moment.

This is, after all, the 1950s, '60s, and '70s South. Yet, though the movie is set largely in North Carolina during an era when Southern society was in violent turmoil, black characters are missing altogether from 3. In fact, African Americans, as a group, are referenced just once in the movie, in an anecdote about delivering moonshine to the "black" neighborhood (not the "colored," "negro," or, probably more accurately to the speech of poor whites of that period, "nigger" side of town.) African Americans, both then as well as now, make up a significant component of the culture and landscape of the South. Even so, the scriptwriters wrote blacks out of the narrative. The NASCAR audience, they seem to be saying, would not mind the absence. (Ironically, the network's TV ad closed with the tag-line: "One man, one sport, one nation.") ... Continues

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Return of The King versus The Day After Tomorrow

Silly Fanboys, the "King" I'm referring to is the Lord of all Christians, not your beloved Tolkien character. (Kat and I are convinced nerds read this blog). Anyhoo, here's an article from the NY Times breaking down the schools of thought on the impending Rapture as signaled by last year's tsunami and the more recent hurricanes and South Asian earthquake. Though I was raised a Catholic, I'm partial to the idea that any apocalypse will just be karmic retribution on the whole of humanity rather than a Christian-centric event. We'll find out soon enough eh?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Privileged Information

The city's rich and well-connected were tipped off to last week's subway terror threat days before average New Yorkers, the Daily News has learned.

At least two e-mails revealing the purported plot were sent to a select crowd of business and arts executives early last week by New Yorkers who claimed to have close connections to Homeland Security and other federal officials, authorities said.

The NYPD confirmed that it learned of the E-mails on Oct. 3 - three days before Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the FBI went public with the threat.

"I have just received a most disturbing call from one of my oldest friends from growing up in Washington," one E-mail began. "He called with a very specific caution to not enter or use the New York City subway system from Oct. 7 through 10th."

A second E-mail sounded a similar ominous tone: "As some of you know my father works for Homeland Security, at a very high position and receives security briefings on a daily basis.

"The only information that I can pass on is that everyone should at all costs not ride the subway for the next two weeks in major areas of NYC."

One of the E-mails was dated Oct. 3 with a 6:05 p.m. time stamp, about 90 minutes before Bloomberg was fully briefed on the threat, a police source said.

The early warning infuriated several police officials, who noted that Homeland Security officials had challenged the credibility of the threat after the city and FBI warned the public."We're briefing the mayor, ratcheting up security, talking about when to go public - and Homeland Security is downplaying the whole thing while their people are telling friends to stay out of the subways," a police source said. "It's pretty bad."

My co-worker told me about an e-mail she received from a family friend who works for Homeland Security warning her a full day before the official City Hall warning to stay off the subways for the next few days. Of course I didn't think anything of it at the time and now we know that the whole thing was just a hoax.

What disturbs me, though, is that while Homeland Security is downplaying the credibility of these threats, they are giving serious warnings to their own family and friends. Which brings us back to September 11th and the Big Conspiracy. Was anyone given advanced warning? How many executives actually perished that day? Will it always be us little people who pay the price? Why do I suddenly feel like a third-class passenger on the Titanic?

Monday, October 10, 2005

We are smurfed...

The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.

The short but chilling film is the work of Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement...

The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children." It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise £70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.

Reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror. UNICEF and IMPS, the family company that controls all rights to the Smurfs, have stipulated that it is not to be broadcast before 9 p.m.

See clips here (or cut and paste: http://movies.crooksandliars.com/N_051004_unicef_oorlogskinderen-20051004-132858-HB.mov).

Gattaca, Here We Come!

This isn't exactly about wannabe astronauts going to the moon but how privacy groups and experts on genetics are praising a recent move by IBM to protect any genetic information collected on its employees. IBM is reportedly the first major corporation to explicitly state their policy of protection regarding this type of information. I didn't realize companies were already (trying to) collect genetic information on its workers but the article mentions a case from 3 years ago that went to court:
Perhaps the best known involved a $2.2 million settlement in 2002 that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached with the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company. The government had sued, saying the railroad tested, or sought to test, 36 of its employees, using blood samples, without their knowledge or consent. According to testimony, the company performed the tests in the hopes of claiming that the workers' arm injuries stemmed from a rare genetic condition instead of from work-related stress on muscles and nerves. The railroad denied that it violated the law, but agreed not to use genetic tests in future medical examinations.
As the technology for genetic profiling and how to decipher it advances, we really have to keep aware of what the government and corporations are doing (or not doing) to protect our privacy.
"What I.B.M. is doing is significant because you have a big, leadership company that is saying to its workers, 'We aren't going to use genetic testing against you,' " said Arthur L. Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.

"If you want a genomic revolution," Mr. Caplan added, "then you better have policies, practices and safeguards that give people comfort and trust."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Condi a member of the Sapphic Society?

Looks like Fox News may have just "outed" Condoleezza Rice. On last week's "Fox & Friends" James Rosen appeared to try to fix her up with co-anchor Lauren Green.

The Sept. 27 interview from Port au Prince, Haiti, started out seriously enough, with Rice expounding on Haitian elections and security, and on Iran as well. But at the end, Rosen popped a wheelie, and the discussion, posted on Radaronline.com, ended thusly:

ROSEN: "All right. I close with a gift for you. You met this person once, I believe, but you really, I think, ought to know each other because this woman is, I think you'll have an interest in knowing her. She is one of our Fox News anchors in New York. Her name is Lauren Green. She is brilliant, she's beautiful, she's African-American, she's single and she's a concert pianist in her spare time.

RICE: My goodness.

ROSEN: And she asked me to give you her CD, and I promised her that I would.

RICE: That's perfect.

ROSEN: And here's her doing a number of different classical pieces.

RICE: Well, that's special.

ROSEN: So there you have it.

RICE: Thank her very much, and I look forward to seeing her sometime.

ROSEN: All right. She's going to want to hear from you.

RICE: And maybe even play dual piano sometime.

Miss Lauren got all pissy and wants everyone to know that she's not gay. Really. "I am not gay. I am very straight. All Christian men, single and over 35 can apply." (more from the Star Tribune)

Question on everyone's mind is, is Condi? Not that there's anything wrong with it!

Reno 911

Yesterday, a woman was ordered off a Southwest Airlines flight in Reno for wearing a T-shirt with the pictures of President Bush and Vise PresidentDick Cheney and an obscene word.

The woman, Lorrie Heasley of Woodland, Wash., said she planned to file a civil rights complaint against the airline over the incident, which occurred Tuesday at Reno Tahoe International Airport.

Ms. Heasley, 32, said she wore the shirt as a joke and wanted her parents, who are Democrats, to see it when they picked her up at the airport in Portland, Ore. Ms. Heasley, who sells lumber, argued that she had a right to wear it.

"I just thought it was hilarious," Ms. Heasley told The Reno Gazette-Journal. "I have cousins in Iraq and other relatives going to war. Here we are trying to free another country, and I have to get off an airplane - over a T-shirt. That's not freedom."

Marilee McInnis, a spokeswoman for the airline, said the shirt became an issue after several passengers complained as they boarded during a scheduled stop in Reno. (Editor's note, I would have given those passengers the a big ol' Fuck Off, but hey that's just me.)

After several conversations with flight attendants, Ms. Heasley agreed to cover the word with a sweatshirt. When the sweatshirt slipped while she was trying to sleep, she was ordered to wear her T-shirt inside-out or leave. She and husband, Ron, chose to leave.

Ms. McInnis said Southwest rules allowed the airline to deny boarding to anyone whose clothing was "lewd, obscene or patently offensive." ...

The flight originated in Los Angeles before making the stop in Reno. No one from Southwest complained about the shirt at Los Angeles International Airport, and neither the pilot nor crew members objected when she boarded the aircraft, Ms. Heasley said...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Are You There God? It's Me, George.

According to a new BBC program, slated to air on Oct. 17th (and an early press release was posted on their website), "President George W. Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq - and create a Palestinian State."

Abu Mazen, Palestinian Prime Minister, and Nabil Shaath, his Foreign Minister, describe their first meeting with President Bush in June 2003.

Nabil Shaath says: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …" And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

Abu Mazen was at the same meeting and recounts how President Bush told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

Um... wow.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Stop, Collaborate and Listen; FEMA Clearly Be Trippin'

Yes, my momma already told me I shoulda been a rapper. Until I get that record deal, here's a great article from the NY Times on how FEMA incompetence will amount to more than $100 million in wasted ice. Seriously, trucks of ice were wandering the country looking for a good use in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and most of them never made it anywhere useful.
When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the United States government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.
...
In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Kostinec's government-ordered meandering was not unusual. Partly because of the mass evacuation forced by Hurricane Katrina, and partly because of what an inspector general's report this week called a broken system for tracking goods at FEMA, the agency ordered far more ice than could be distributed to people who needed it.

Not Necessarily the News

Remember this old post about Bush bought propaganda? So the Government Accountability Office has officially ruled that the propaganda paid for by the Bush Administration was illegal:
Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities.
...
The auditors declared: "We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds."
So my question is, when is someone gonna get indicted?