Saturday, May 07, 2005


Your friendly neighbourhood pastor

This is an excellent example of why I am leery about organized religon. I consider this minister's behaviour to be intellectual thuggery and seriously immoral.


The minister of a Haywood County Baptist church is telling members of his congregation that if they're Democrats, they either need to find another place of worship or support President Bush. Already, the Reverend Chan Chandler has ex-communicated nine members of East Waynesville Baptist Church. Another 40 members have left in protest. During last Sunday's sermon, he acknowledged that church members were upset because he named people, and he says he'll do it again because he has to according to the word of God. (Link)


Thursday, May 05, 2005


Wonders of gmail

I went to check my gmail account and I got this message:

Dear valued user,

You have reached the error page for the error page...
You win!!

Love, The Gmail Team




Knocking rivets out of airplanes

The title above refers to the common analogy used to explain the importance of biodiversity: that losing species is like losing rivets in an airplane. One or two may not be a danger, but if you lose enough the performance of the airplane will be effected, i.e. it will fall apart in flight and all the passengers will plummet, screaming, to their demise.

Here is an example of a species that you probably didn't think effected you, but now you know otherwise.


Bees, via pollination, are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food U.S. consumers eat. But in the last 50 years the domesticated honeybee population - which most farmers depend on for pollination - has declined by about 50 percent, scientists say.

Unless actions are taken to slow the decline of domesticated honeybees and augment their populations with wild bees, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food supply, said Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Anecdotes of farmers losing their crops owing to the honeybee shortage appear to be on the increase, Kremen said. Last February, for example, there were insufficient honeybees for all the almond blossoms in California. As a result some farmers failed to meet expected yields. . .

Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in the department of entomology with Pennsylvania State University in State College, said honeybee shortages are not yet impacting commercial producers of crops, but that community farmers "are struggling to get bees for pollination." In fact, Dewey Caron, an entomologist at the University of Delaware in Newark, started to study the problem of the honeybee decline when he noticed that farmers in the northeastern U.S. increasingly lacked sufficient bee colonies to meet their pollination needs.

The honeybee decline, which is affecting domesticated and wild bee populations around the world, is mostly the result of diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites as well as the spraying of crops with pesticides, scientists say. Among the greatest problems is the varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that attacks young and adult honeybees. Attacked bees often have deformed wings and abdomens and a shortened life span. (Link)


A pleased customer

Goran had a keen eye and spotted this well written thank-you letter to IKEA.


Keith Snyder
Brooklyn, NY 11217

To: Ikea Customer Service
8352 Honeygo Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21236

July 18, 1998

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am taking a break from assembling my 73x73 "Expedit" wall unit to express to you my gratitude for how interesting Ikea has made my life today.

What could have been simply another boring weekend has been transformed into an adventure, the likes of which I experience only when I shop at and subsequently assemble furniture sold by your lovely company.

My first thank-you goes to the service counter, where they increased my sense of suspense by drawing out the "fifteen-minute wait" by an additional fifteen minutes! How clever! They knew I'd be doubly happy when my gray "Expedit" wall unit finally appeared.

This same impish sense of humor was evident when, after the hour's drive back home, I unboxed my gray "Expedit" wall unit to find that it was a black "Expedit" wall unit. Please forward my thanks to the service staff for sensing my poor interior design choice and taking it upon themselves to correct it.

Still chuckling over this delightful detour to my expectation, I began to assemble my black "Expedit" wall unit.

In hiring documentation writers who place clarity above simplicity, most companies reveal that they are humorless entities without the personal touch. Ikea is to be commended for their choice to create assembly instructions which not only do not use words at all -- thus allowing people who may not speak the world's primary languages to enjoy the identical experience on long Saturdays around the globe -- but which allow the illustrator free range for his own personal artistic license. A less creative, free-spirited company would balk at releasing technical drawings which show holes where they are not and do not show holes where they are, which do not explicitly show the consumer how to differentiate the side pieces from the top, nor the top from the bottom, and which have no indication of the fact that the shelves are not intended to sit atop their supports, but rather surround them. But I have learned to look forward to Ikea's droll, delightful, impressionist documentation. After all, if Seurat can create the impression of people at a French seaside using only colored dots, why should an Ikea technical illustrator not create only the impression of accuracy?

Also please thank your documentation team for allowing me the luxury of putting aside my precious projects for an hour or two of three-dimensional puzzle-solving. How did you know I so enjoy Rubic's Cube and Chinese woodblocks? I have had my black "Expedit" wall unit assembled and disassembled three times now, and I still have not solved it! A hearty congratulations to your dedicated staff-- I assemble and disassemble things all the time as part of owning a music studio, and you've managed to do what teams of Japanese, Dutch, and American documentation writers have failed to: You've got me stymied! I'll beat you on this next go-round, though; I believe I now see it. Of course, the only reason I see it is that I seem to have run out of other combinations, but a brute force solution beats none.

(I do, however, think it is not entirely fair play to hide so many of the pre-drilled holes. I can see hiding one or two, but gluing veneer over two entire sides and leaving only the faintest dimples as evidence of the holes lurking beneath them seems a bit out-of-bounds and not quite preux, wouldn't you say?)

Please also forward my thanks to whoever designed the veneer. While most consumers would be satisfied with a nice, clean, smooth, featureless gray -- oops, I mean black! -- surface, you were able to discern that I prefer to think of myself as an individualist, and would thus find such perfection boring. I'm very impressed with your foresight: Kudos to you for knowing that after the third complete reassembly and repositioning of my black "Expedit" wall unit, not a surface would remain unchipped. I am now the very proud owner of a brand new $249 shelf unit which looks as though it did not survive that last Florida hurricane. Thank you so much for allowing me to express my non-conformity through my interior furnishings.

Please also relay my gratitude to the sophisticate who intuited that six would be too symmetrical a number of plastic feet for the bottom of such a work of art, and who therefore removed one from my package, a subtle and insightful move, and one more commonly associated with the Futurist art movement than with most furniture stores. The positioning of five plastic feet into six pre-drilled holes was an unexpected and delightful intellectual and aesthetic challenge, and one which brought a wry smile and a colorful comment to my lips.

It seems I have so many things for which to be grateful that I would simply drone on forever if I tried. If you continue to give all your customers such excellent solutions to their needs -- Needs they weren't even aware they had! Wow! -- the future of your company is easy to predict. After all, happy customers are return customers.

I now return to my $249 chipped, incorrectly (re-re-)assembled, black "Expedit" weekend project. Although I would love to do this all the time, I cannot always get to New Jersey, so next weekend, as a way of replicating the experience, I am considering staying home and banging myself repeatedly in the head with a hammer.

My best regards,

Keith Snyder
Pleased consumer (Link)


Shall we abolish nuclear weapons?

The major threat posed by nuclear weapons is not their use by nation-states but rather their theft and use by non-state actors that cannot be deterred. Secondly the majority of people on the planet want to end their existance. May it is time to start a popular push towards their abolishon.


We have entered an era when the major threat posed byIn an era of terrorism and guerrilla wars, are nuclear weapons a realistic option? Do they make us more secure? Nuclear weapons don't deter suicide bombers or guerrilla fighters. They can't be used in war without producing radioactive fallout that circles the globe and threatens the health of innocents. Perhaps they do deter some hostile governments from harboring thoughts of attacking the US, but that could be done at much lower levels of destructive power.

The cold war's two superpowers still possess huge nuclear arsenals - accounting for over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The United States has 10,000 nuclear bombs and warheads, half deployed on submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and cruise missiles, and half held in reserve, stored for possible future use. Russia had 7,800 deployed as of 2004 and 9,200 retired or in storage (not all of them secured). Just one could destroy a city.

The nuclear club now has eight members, with North Korea and Iran pounding on the door. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is pressing Congress to fund nuclear "bunker busters" - which could kill up to a million city dwellers, depending on the yield - and new nuclear warheads, even as it insists other countries should just say no to nuclear arms.

For much of Congress, ours is an invisible arsenal, out of sight and out of mind. Rep. Dave Hobson, a conservative Republican from Ohio, is a shining exception. As chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Mr. Hobson has blocked administration efforts to design a nuclear weapon that could penetrate deep underground bunkers. At the urging of the Defense Department, he spent a day at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska being briefed by the Strategic Air Command. But in a February address to the Arms Control Association, he said, "I was never told of any specific mission requiring the nuclear bunker buster." Yet someone is thinking of how to use nukes to wage war, not just to deter potential attackers. To cover all bets, the Pentagon is also working on a 30,000-pound conventional bomb intended to destroy "multistory buildings with hardened bunkers and tunnel facilities."

Hobson also asserted in his address that "the development of new weapons for ill-defined future requirements is not what the nation needs at this time. What is needed and what is absent to date is leadership and fresh thinking for the 21st century regarding nuclear security and the future of the US stockpile."

Leadership and fresh thinking have indeed been in short supply. The Bush administration's pursuit of new nuclear weapons flouts the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates signatories to pursue nuclear disarmament. This pursuit also undermines President Bush's insistence that others forgo these arms. Mr. Bush says the chief threat comes from a nuclear weapon in terrorist hands, and he has launched a naval effort to intercept contraband nuclear technology.

But, according to Hobson, we spend more on the newest supercomputer for nuclear weapons than we do to secure the loose nukes in the former Soviet Union. Bush rejects the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban underground nuclear tests that facilitate weapons development. His divided administration failed to engage North Korea in meaningful negotiations before Pyongyang publicly declared it has nuclear arms. The administration leaves it to our European allies to do the heavy lifting in negotiations with Iran. And talk of "regime change" has done little to reassure the nuclear wannabes that the US is interested in arriving at peaceful solutions.

The Bush administration has one agreement to its credit: the Treaty of Moscow. Presidents Putin and Bush accepted weapons levels previously agreed upon by Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin - no more than 2,200 deployed on either side by 2012. But the treaty doesn't limit nuclear weapons held in reserve. This is not nuclear disarmament.

The American public questions the value of keeping nuclear arms. Two-thirds of respondents to an AP-Ipsos poll in March said no nation should have nuclear weapons. While nuclear abolition is on no government's agenda, practical options are available to the US. These could include: reject new nukes; take the ICBMs off alert; speed up the reductions agreed upon with Russia and limit the numbers in reserve; ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; address the professed security concerns of North Korea and Iran when seeking to persuade them to forgo nuclear weapons, and engage the members of the nuclear club in discussions on how far we can move, together, toward the American public's vision of a world free of nuclear arms. (Link)


New Zealand introduces a carbon tax

Carbon taxes are the easiest way to harness the power and innovation of the market to address climate change. Raising the cost of carbon encourages alternate technologies by making them more economical. The main problem is that this type of market innovation does not always have a linear response. In the case of taxes on gasoline, a close cousin to carbon taxes, it has been shown in Europe that there is no response by consumers until the price of gasoline cross some threshold, which I can't remember at the moment. Carbon will probably have a similar response.


New Zealanders will pay an extra NZ$2.90 (£1.11) a week for electricity, petrol and gas when the country becomes the first in the world to introduce a carbon tax to address global warming.

It is expected to add about 6% to household energy prices and 9% for most businesses but will help the economy in the long run, according to Pete Hodgson, the minister responsible for climate change policy.

Mr Hodgson set the tax yesterday at NZ$11 a metric tonne of carbon emitted. It will come into effect in two years. "If we are going to tackle climate change, we need to start taking environmental costs into account in the economic choices we make," he said.

The tax, planned after New Zealand signed up to the Kyoto protocol, would make polluting energy sources such as coal and oil more expensive than cleaner ones such as hydro, wind and solar, he said.

The experiment will be watched closely by bigger countries which are also com mitted to reducing carbon emissions but are failing to reduce energy demand.

The government estimates the tax will raise about NZ$360m a year but has said it will not increase revenues.

"It will be balanced by other tax changes so there is no net increase in government revenue," a government spokesman said yesterday.

The most energy-intensive businesses will be exempted so they are not forced to shut or relocate. In return companies such as Comalco, which uses 15% of the country's power, and Carter Holt Harvey, the country's biggest sawmill, must commit to reducing carbon emissions.

New Zealand, which produces about 29% of its electricity from gas- or coal-fired power stations, has a record of introducing the idea of green taxes but then not implementing them. In 2003 the government planned to impose a methane tax on farmers because flatulence of cows and sheep was responsible for more than half of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions. But that was abandoned after criticism from farmers, who labelled it a "fart tax".

Reaction to the carbon tax was mixed yesterday.

"It's good to see there are no surprises," said Tom Campbell, the managing director of Comalco's aluminium smelting operations.

A government spokesman said the tax would have long term benefits for the economy: "If New Zealand does nothing _ our emissions will continue to rise as will the future cost of reducing them. If we can curb our growth in greenhouse gas emissions now, we will be better placed to make a smooth transition to more challenging commitments after 2012."

Other countries, especially in Europe, have energy taxes which are weighted against producers but New Zealand is believed to be the first to ask the public to pay directly for the costs of reducing global warming. Proposals for a Europe-wide carbon tax were abandoned in the 90s. (Link)


Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Study on early childhood education

A massive study was done to see what effects a young child's ability to learn. The list is includes what matters and whay doesn't.


The U.S. Department of Education recently undertook a monumental project called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracks the progress of more than 20,000 American schoolchildren from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Aside from gathering each child's test scores and the standard demographic information, the ECLS also asks the children's parents a wide range of questions about the families' habits and activities. The result is an extraordinarily rich set of data that, when given a rigorous economic analysis, tells some compelling stories about parenting technique.

A child with at least 50 kids' books in his home, for instance, scores roughly 5 percentile points higher than a child with no books, and a child with 100 books scores another 5 percentile points higher than a child with 50 books. . .

But the ECLS data show no correlation between a child's test scores and how often his parents read to him. How can this be? Here is a sampling of other parental factors that matter and don't:

Matters: The child has highly educated parents.

Doesn't: The child regularly watches TV at home.

Matters: The child's parents have high income.

Doesn't: The child's mother didn't work between birth and kindergarten.

Matters: The child's parents speak English in the home.

Doesn't: The child's parents regularly take him to museums.

Matters: The child's mother was 30 or older at time of the child's birth.

Doesn't: The child attended Head Start.

Matters: The child's parents are involved in the PTA.

Doesn't: The child is regularly spanked at home. . .

It is obvious that children of successful, well-educated parents have a built-in advantage over the children of struggling, poorly educated parents. Call it a privilege gap. The child of a young, single mother with limited education and income will typically test about 25 percentile points lower than the child of two married, high-earning parents.

So it isn't that parents don't matter. Clearly, they matter an awful lot. It's just that by the time most parents pick up a book on parenting technique, it's too late. (Link)


Japanese textbook scandal: the American version

Here is an interesting bit of historical comparison to the Japanese textbook scandal.


Should history textbooks make you love your country? Most people would say "yes." And that's why textbooks inevitably distort the past - even here, in the good old USA. Americans like to think they've reckoned with their history, while other nations remain mired in propaganda and distortion. Americans should think again.

Consider the recent controversy over history textbooks in Japan. Last month, Chinese and Korean protesters took to the streets to condemn a new set of Japanese junior high school texts. The books omit mention of "comfort women," the roughly 200,000 females - mostly from Korea and China - whom the Japanese forced into sexual bondage during World War II.

But scour the textbooks that Americans use in schools, and you won't find any serious discussion of our own comfort women. I speak, of course, of female African-American slaves.

Sure, today's textbooks - unlike earlier versions - contain lengthy descriptions and denunciations of American slavery. So far as I know, though, not a single commonly used textbook explains one of the most brutal aspects of the institution: coerced sexual relations. And I'm betting that most Americans would just as soon keep it that way.

Take the example of Harriet Jacobs, who was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1813. She was sold at the age of 12 to James Norcum, who soon began making sexual overtures to her.

As Jacobs later recalled in her memoir, Norcum told her that "I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things." And so she was. Although Jacobs occasionally managed to escape her owner's clutches, he did own her. To get sex from her, Norcum sometimes promised her new clothes and other presents; at other times, he simply held a razor to her throat. And that, my fellow Americans, is what we call rape.

You do the math. Between 1850 and 1860, the number of blacks in slavery rose by about 20 percent. But the number of enslaved "mulattoes" - that is, mixed-raced slaves - rose by a remarkable 67 percent, as historian Joel Williamson has calculated. To put it most bluntly: Black slaves were getting lighter in skin, because white owners were raping them. It's really that simple - and that awful.

As the great African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass recounted in his autobiography, the black female slave was "at the mercy of the fathers, sons, or brothers of her master." Black women were also abused by slave traders, who often raped them before selling them to the next white man - and the next round of sexual coercion. Undoubtedly there were slaves who may have chosen to have sex with their owners. But what does it mean to "choose" sex, when you know that the wrong choice might get you sold, or even killed?

Some masters seem to have treated their slaves like spouses, sharing living quarters and doting upon the children of these liaisons. More often, though, they simply pretended that it all never happened. So did the masters' white wives and daughters, who turned a blind eye to what was occurring right under their noses.

And so do we. How many American children know that Thomas Jefferson, father of our Declaration of Independence, fathered children by his slave? And how many American parents want their children to know that?

Let's imagine that a coalition of West African countries - say, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast - staged demonstrations against American history textbooks, demanding that the books include our sordid history of sexual coercion against black people. I think most Americans would scoff at "outside interference" and invoke their own patriotic imperatives.

In other words, they'd behave just like the Japanese. Defending the omission of comfort women from schoolbooks, the Japanese society for History Textbook Reform argued that other nations have no right to define the Japanese past. Only Japan can do that, a statement from the society says, because history aims at "deepening love towards our country."

And that's precisely the problem. Of course the Japanese should admit the terrible harm they inflicted upon Chinese and Korean comfort women between 1937 and 1945. But we also need to acknowledge our own African-American comfort women, who were sexually enslaved for more than two centuries. It might not make us feel more patriotic, but at least it would be true. (Link)


Brazil turns down Bush's AIDS money

The Bush administration is using its charity to push ineffective socially conservative ideas upon poor countries. They claim absintence and fidelity propaganda is enough to stop the spread of AIDS. They like to point at Uganda's anti-AIDS program as a successful example, except Uganda also promoted the use of condoms which has been shown to be the most important part of Uganda's success.

Basically, Brazil feels that the money comes with too many strings attached.


Brazil yesterday became the first country to take a public stand against the Bush administration's massive Aids programme which is seen by many as seeking increasingly to press its anti-abortion, pro-abstinence sexual agenda on poorer countries.

Campaigners applauded Brazil's rejection of $40m for its Aids programmes because it refuses to agree to a declaration condemning prostitution.

The government and many Aids organisations believe such a declaration would be a serious barrier to helping sex workers protect themselves and their clients from infection.

The demand from the US administration, heavily influenced by the religious right, follows what is known as the "global gag" - a ban on US government funds to any foreign-based organisation which has links to abortion. This has resulted in the removal of millions of dollars of funding from family planning clinics worldwide.

Yesterday Pedro Chequer, the director of Brazil's HIV/Aids programme, said the government had managed to resist US pressure during negotiations on the Aids funding to focus on promoting abstinence and fidelity rather than condoms - another ideological battle being waged by the religious right. But the US negotiators insisted that the clause on prostitution had to stay.

"I would like to confirm that Brazil has taken this decision in order to preserve its autonomy on issues related to national policies on HIV/Aids as well as ethical and human rights principles," he told the Guardian.

Campaigners congratulated the Brazilian government for its stance, and voiced concerns that the declaration on prostitution could damage efforts to tackle Aids among sex workers in many countries.

Jodi Jacobson of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity in the US said that, unlike the global gag, the declaration on prostitution looked likely to be imposed on US-based organisations as well as their subsidiaries abroad. The office of Randall Tobias, the global Aids coordinator who is responsi ble for spending the $15bn President Bush promised for the fight against Aids, was working on the language to be adopted, she said.

"Any organisation receiving US global Aids funding will have to agree to the policy," she said. That would include charities as large as Care, Save the Children and World Vision.

"It is a hugely problematic policy from the standpoint of public health alone. It goes against the entire grain of public health principles in not judging the people you are trying to reach."

But Sam Brownback, a leading Senate conservative, told the Wall Street Journal: "Obviously Brazil has the right to act however it chooses in this regard. We're talking about promotion of prostitution which the majority of both the house and the Senate believe is harmful to women."

This is not the promotion of prostitution, it is simply the acceptance that prostitution happens and must be dealt with openly.


Most US Aids funding goes directly to organisations working in the field and much will be channelled through faith organisations that back the no-abortion, pro-abstinence and anti-prostitution stance of the US neo-conservatives.

But the Brazilian government has strong HIV/Aids policies and insists that all negotiations go through its own committee. It also has a strong partnership between government and non-governmental organisations that encouraged a united response to Washington.

"This would be entirely in contradiction with Brazilian guidelines for a programme that has been working very well for years. We are providing condoms, and doing a lot of prevention work with sex workers, and the rate of infection has stabilised and dropped since the 1980s," said Sonia Correa, an Aids activist in Brazil and co-chair of the International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy.

"The US is doing the same in other countries - bullying, pushing and forcing - but not every country has the possibility to say no."

Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, said: "The importance of the Brazilian government decision can not be overstated." (Link)


Greek minefields slaughter migrants

Greece and Turkey have been at each others throats since Greece declared its indepedence from the Ottoman Empire on May 25 1832. Since then they have had several skirmishes and a few wars. To defend itself Greece mined its land border with Turkey. In 1999 both Greece and Turkey suffered devestating earthquakes, which become the source of what was called "earthquake diplomacy". Tensions have lessened since then to such a degree that Greece is one of the champions of Turkey's drive to join the EU. However, the border is still mined.


In the far north-eastern corner of Greece, along the sensitive border with Turkey, lie the killing fields of the European Union.

It is not known exactly how many people have died or been maimed in this region since the Greek army planted thousands of landmines 30 years ago.

But what is known is that the victims are not the invading Turkish troops that Greece once feared.

Instead, they are some of the world's most desperate - asylum-seekers and economic migrants from Africa, the Middle-East and Asia in search of protection or a better life in the EU.

Thirty-three-year-old Guma Nhdikumana, an asylum-seeker from Burundi, is one of many who have made the perilous crossing of the River Evros which marks the border.

He and two African friends paid Turkish smugglers $450 (347 euros or £236) to guide them to the crossing-point where they were told to turn left for Greece or right for Bulgaria once they reached the other side of the river.

It was a bleak winter's night.

"I didn't think there would be minefields in Greece, which is part of the EU," he says. "We didn't see any warnings because it was raining and foggy, so we just jumped over the fence."

One of his friends was killed instantly after treading on a landmine, the other died several hours later.

Civilian casualties

Guma himself was also injured by the blast and almost bled to death as he lay in the minefield for 14 hours waiting to be rescued by Greek troops. Doctors amputated his right leg shortly after he arrived at the local hospital.

"If Europe wants to stop illegal immigrants, this is not the way," says Theophilos Rosenberg, founder of the Greek branch of the aid agency Doctors of the World. "We cannot accept that here, in the heart of Europe, there are landmines that keep killing people every month... especially when 90% are innocent civilians."

Campaigners are particularly incensed that the deaths and injuries in the minefields continue eight years after Greece first signed the Ottawa Convention, the international treaty which bans the use of anti-personnel mines.

They say more than 70 civilians have been killed and many others injured during this period despite significant improvements to the marking and fencing of the minefields.

Under increasing pressure on the issue, the Greek government finally ratified the Ottawa Convention in late 2003 which meant the treaty came into force in the country last year.

Since then, troops have started removing the anti-personnel mines from the border region. But it is an extremely slow process.

"The army has an eight-year plan which means the entire operation is expected to be completed by 2012," says army spokesman Major Vangelis Demetrios.

Government pledge

Although Greece is now complying with this section of the convention, officials monitoring progress say the government is failing to meet its obligations to provide long-term assistance for those already maimed in the minefields such as Guma Nhdikumana.

More than two years after losing his leg, Guma lives in a tiny bed-sit in the capital, Athens.

He says he has no passport, no money and depends on donations from Greek or foreign friends to pay for his artificial limbs and the parts that go with it.

"Sometimes I feel it would be better to die than to live like this."

Other victims have been found living rough on the streets of Athens. Embarrassed by this, the Greek government says it has had a change of heart.

"There was a gap which has now been covered," says Deputy Defence Minister Vasilios Michaloliakos. "I have acted to obtain resources for artificial limbs for the injured and to ensure their full recovery and psychological support. Our support for these unlucky people must be total."

But Guma says nothing has changed for him so far. He believes "it's just talk". (Link


Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Reporters threaten action

Reporters tired of Bush adminstration secrecy are pushing for more on-the-record briefings and interviews. Apparently readers like to know who said what, especially after the intelligence screw ups over Iraq.


Washington bureau chiefs have launched a new effort to stop off-the-record and background-only White House press briefings with a campaign aimed at getting fellow D.C. journalists to demand that more briefings be on the record.

Among other efforts, they pressed the demand with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Friday. "We tried to make the point that readers are sick to death of unnamed sources," said Ron Hutcheson, a White House correspondent for Knight Ridder. "Scott listened and he said he would chew on it for a few weeks, but everybody felt like he would give it consideration."

McClellan could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

In an e-mail to several dozen bureau chiefs Monday, a group of top D.C. bureau bosses urged their colleagues to push more for on-the-record briefings when government officials deem them to be on background only.

"We'd like to make a more concerted effort among the media during the month of May to raise objections as soon as background briefings are scheduled by any government official, whether at the White House, other executive agencies or the Hill," the e-mail said, in part. "Please ask your reporters to raise objections beforehand in hopes of convincing the official to go public -- ask them to explain why the briefing has to be on background. If that doesn't work, object again at the top of the briefing -- at least those objections will be part of the transcript. The broadcast networks will also press for briefings to be open to camera and sound."

The e-mail went to more than 40 D.C. bureau chiefs. Those who signed the e-mail were: Susan Page of USA Today, Clark Hoyt of Knight Ridder, Andy Alexander of Cox Newspapers, Robin Sproul of ABC News, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, Philip Taubman of The New York Times, and Sandy Johnson of Associated Press.

The e-mail followed the 45-minute meeting last Friday between the same bureau chiefs, White House Correspondents Association President Hutcheson and Press Secretary McClellan. Only Sproul did not attend. Those in attendance said they asked McClellan to end the background-only briefings, citing a need to have more openness in their reporting.

The bureau chiefs said the background briefings often occur once or twice a week at the White House, sometimes via conference calls. In most cases, they are done to give reporters a leg up before a major speech, presidential trip, or specific legislation being introduced or debated in Congress.

"It depends if there is a lot going on," said USA Today's Page. "But they occur at least once or twice a week." With Bush heading to Europe on Friday, many reporters expect at least one to be held this week.

Several of the bureau chiefs cited a briefing one week ago, prior to Bush's speech on energy, in which journalists on a conference call were not told the identity of the deputy press secretary who led the briefing.

"That was of particular concern," Page said about the energy briefing. "There is a real proliferation of this." Johnson agreed, saying that print reporters are often limited to background briefings, only to see the same officials speaking on the record later for broadcast outlets.

"The briefers show up on TV a day later after giving us a group grope on background," Johnson told E&P. She added, "We are obviously under pressure from our bosses who don’t like anonymous sources."

Taubman of the Times said his bureau was "deadly serious about trying to change the culture here." He added that "the credibility of our publication is reduced in the minds of readers when anonymous sources are cited."

AP began a trend of protests more than two years ago when its reporters were ordered to object each time a background-only briefing is called and ask why it cannot be on the record, Johnson said. USA Today joined the practice last year, which other bureau chiefs hope will eventually spread to all D.C. bureaus.

"We have been a little bit more successful with it," Johnson said, noting that the number of background briefings has been reduced, but they have not eliminated. "We think the broader group of [bureau] chiefs will start joining in this protest and move the administration toward a policy of more openness."

Taubman said he would direct more of his reporters to respond to background briefing rules with such protests. "We will make it a more systematic practice of challenging the background press rules," he told E&P.

But none of those involved were ready to boycott such background briefings. "We think this is an appropriate first step," Johnson said. "We have been successful in working with press spokesmen and we'll see where this route gets us." (Link)


Sometimes you meet a stereotype

This artilce put me in stitches, I hurt from laughing. It is so absurd that it is incredible.


PS this is the real thing a frothing pre-enlightenment conservative.

First Lady Laura Bush may have stolen the show with her surprise comedy routine at this weekend's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but her jokes and one-liners have made her no new friends among conservative Christians. In an official statement, one 'pro-family' advocacy group warned that Mrs. Bush's jokes at the President's expense were in violation of the Biblical command that wives respect their husbands.

Some shocked by Mrs. Bush's reference to herself as a "desperate housewife"

WASHINGTON, DC—The First Lady may have stolen the show with her surprise comedy routine at the 91st White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but not everyone appreciated her jokes and one-liners poking fun at President Bush. At least one organization of conservative Christians quickly lashed out at Mrs. Bush's performance, warning that her remarks at the President's expense were a public refutation of the Biblical command that wives should respect their husbands.

According to an official statement released over the weekend by the Coalition for Traditional Values, an organization that seeks a more flexible relationship between church and state, Mrs. Bush's jokes at her husband's expense amounted to a public emasculation of the President. Pastor Roy DeLong, the statement's author and chair of the group, warns that the First Lady's performance comes at a time when the Mr. Bush's "manliness is already under attack."

Laura: Meet Ephesians

"As a believer, President Bush is no doubt familiar with the passage from Ephesians that says 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord,'" says Mr. DeLong. "That means that just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. That is not the

Mrs. Bush interrupted a speech being given by her husband at the annual dinner, remarking that "I have a few things I want to say for a change." She then proceeded to mock his performance, both public ("if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later") and private, noting that by nine o'clock, Mr. Bush, whom she referred to as "Mr. Excitement," is typically sound asleep.

"One of the Proverbs says that 'a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, but she that maketh him ashamed is as rottenness in his bones," notes Mr. DeLong. "I bet President Bush is feeling pretty rotten today."

Manliness in question

The rebuke to the First Lady's stand-up act comes on the heels of mounting concern about the President's image. Last week, Mr. Bush was seen holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then the President raised eyebrows anew when he asked a crowd of supporters in Galveston, TX if they celebrated Splash Day, an annual gay pride event in that state, best known for attracting tens of thousands of buff men, wearing little more than suntan oil.

Even some members of Mr. Bush's famously loyal party looked askance at his recommendation during a speech on the nation's energy needs last week, when he encouraged Americans to consider driving hybrid vehicles, widely believed to be 'gay' cars.

Depraved housewives?
While the Coalition for Traditional Values was the first conservative advocacy group to jump on the First Lady's comments, more criticism is expected. In her remarks, Mrs. Bush likened herself to a desperate housewife, a reference to the hit show on ABC, noting that she watches the show with Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President.

"Desperate Housewives" has come under heavy fire from pro-family groups, including the American Decency Association, which has called for a boycott of ABC for airing the "degraded" show. Last fall, Mrs. Cheney asked the federal government to step in to protect the nation's children from the "Desperate Housewives."

Do you think the First Lady's comedy act was offensive to Judeo-Christian values? Contact Russell Darby at (Link)


Punk kid soldiers

Later on I have a set of posts on the Italian report on the Calipari/Sgrena shooting which suggests that the American soldiers were punk kids. Here are some more examples.


I spent some time recently with Aidan Delgado, a 23-year-old religion major at New College of Florida, a small, highly selective school in Sarasota.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, before hearing anything about the terror attacks that would change the direction of American history, Mr. Delgado enlisted as a private in the Army Reserve. Suddenly, in ways he had never anticipated, the military took over his life. He was trained as a mechanic and assigned to the 320th Military Police Company in St. Petersburg. By the spring of 2003, he was in Iraq. Eventually he would be stationed at the prison compound in Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Delgado's background is unusual. He is an American citizen, but because his father was in the diplomatic corps, he grew up overseas. He spent eight years in Egypt, speaks Arabic and knows a great deal about the various cultures of the Middle East. He wasn't happy when, even before his unit left the states, a top officer made wisecracks about the soldiers heading off to Iraq to kill some ragheads and burn some turbans.

"He laughed," Mr. Delgado said, "and everybody in the unit laughed with him."

The officer's comment was a harbinger of the gratuitous violence that, according to Mr. Delgado, is routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis. He said: "Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads."

He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.' "

"Haji" is the troops' term of choice for an Iraqi. It's used the way "gook" or "Charlie" was used in Vietnam.

Mr. Delgado said he had witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old. There were many occasions, he said, when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong.

He said he believes that the absence of any real understanding of Arab or Muslim culture by most G.I.'s, combined with a lack of proper training and the unrelieved tension of life in a war zone, contributes to levels of fear and rage that lead to frequent instances of unnecessary violence.

Mr. Delgado, an extremely thoughtful and serious young man, balked at the entire scene. "It drove me into a moral quagmire," he said. "I walked up to my commander and gave him my weapon. I said: 'I'm not going to fight. I'm not going to kill anyone. This war is wrong. I'll stay. I'll finish my job as a mechanic. But I'm not going to hurt anyone. And I want to be processed as a conscientious objector.' "

He stayed with his unit and endured a fair amount of ostracism. "People would say I was a traitor or a coward," he said. "The stuff you would expect."

In November 2003, after several months in Nasiriya in southern Iraq, the 320th was redeployed to Abu Ghraib. The violence there was sickening, Mr. Delgado said. Some inmates were beaten nearly to death. The G.I.'s at Abu Ghraib lived in cells while most of the detainees were housed in large overcrowded tents set up in outdoor compounds that were vulnerable to mortars fired by insurgents. The Army acknowledges that at least 32 Abu Ghraib detainees were killed by mortar fire.

Mr. Delgado, who eventually got conscientious objector status and was honorably discharged last January, recalled a disturbance that occurred while he was working in the Abu Ghraib motor pool. Detainees who had been demonstrating over a variety of grievances began throwing rocks at the guards. As the disturbance grew, the Army authorized lethal force. Four detainees were shot to death.

Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn't get mad at all. He was, like, 'Well, I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.' " (Link)


Solar winds help to destroy stratospheric ozone

For those of you who are atmospheric scientists: stratospheric ozone is good and make life one Earth possible, ground level ozone is bad and tears apart your lungs.

This also goes to show that our environment does not end at the top of the atmosphere, which is a misnomer anyways because there is no top just a gradual thinning, so you pick your top depending on what is important to you.


Solar storms, such as the unusually intense events in October and November 2003, affect many aspects of our lives, such as radio signals and satellite communications. Now a new study partially funded by NASA and using data from several NASA instruments has shown that those late 2003 solar storms, which deposited huge quantities of energetic solar particles into Earth's atmosphere, combined forces with another natural atmospheric process last spring to produce the largest decline ever recorded in upper stratospheric ozone over the Arctic and the northern areas of North America, Europe and Asia.

A form of oxygen, ozone protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The ozone layer has thinned markedly in the high latitudes of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in recent decades, primarily due to chemical reactions with chlorofluorocarbons and other industrial gases from human activities in the lower stratosphere, about 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) in altitude. Such ozone loss normally occurs only during very cold Arctic winters.

Last spring, however, following a warm Arctic winter, scientists were surprised to see record levels of ozone loss in the upper, not lower, stratosphere; reductions in ozone levels of up to 60 percent about 40 kilometers (25 miles) above Earth's high northern latitudes. This unusual ozone destruction resulted from processes distinctly different from the more commonly observed lower stratospheric ozone loss caused by chemical reactions with chlorofluorocarbons. This time the culprits were high levels of nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide, two gases that together destroy stratospheric ozone. An international team of scientists from the United States, Canada and Europe, including researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., set out to uncover the processes behind the unexpected ozone loss.

Using data from seven satellites, including NASA's Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment II and III instruments on the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and the Halogen Occultation Experiment on NASA's Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, the researchers concluded the record ozone declines were the result of a combination of unusual stratospheric weather conditions and energetic solar particles in the atmosphere resulting from the vigorous solar storm activity. Results of the study appear in the online version of the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"The 2003-2004 Arctic winter was unique," said Dr. Gloria Manney, a JPL atmospheric scientist and one of the paper's co-authors. "First, the stratospheric polar vortex, a massive low-pressure system that confines air over the Arctic, broke down in a major stratospheric warming that lasted from January to February 2004. Such midwinter warmings typically last only a few days to a week. Then, in February and March 2004, winds in the upper stratospheric polar vortex sped up to their strongest levels on record. The vortex allowed the nitrogen gases, which are believed to have formed at least 10 kilometers (6 miles) above the stratosphere as a result of chemical reactions triggered by energetic solar particles, to descend more easily than normal into the stratosphere."

Study lead author Dr. Cora Randall of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics said the phenomenon illustrates the difficulties in separating ozone-destroying atmospheric effects resulting from natural versus human-induced causes. "These findings point out a critical need to better understand the processes occurring in the ozone layer, and demonstrate that scientists searching for signs of ozone recovery need to factor in the atmospheric effects of energetic particles, something they do not now do," she said.

Scientists believe the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that phased out production and use of ozone-destroying compounds, may allow the protective ozone layer to recover by the middle of this century. NASA's Aura spacecraft is providing insights into physical and chemical processes that influence the health of the stratospheric ozone layer and climate, producing the most complete suite of chemical measurements ever made.

Manney, lead author of another new paper on Arctic stratospheric interannual variability appearing in the Journal of Geophysical Research, said the findings underscore the incredible complexity of the Arctic region and why more research is necessary.

"While the 2004-2005 Arctic winter has been unusually cold, six of the past seven Arctic winters were unusually warm, with little or no potential for Arctic chemical ozone loss," she said. "This period of warm winters was immediately preceded by a period of unusually cold winters. The point is that it is absolutely critical that we understand how and why the Arctic stratosphere varies from year to year, and that we need to be very careful to consider and account for natural variability when determining trends in atmospheric circulation, temperature, ozone levels and climate change." (Link)


The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty comes under review

These are right words.


When the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty came into force 35 years ago, the central bargain of the agreement was that non-nuclear-weapon states like us would renounce their right to develop nuclear weapons, while retaining the inalienable right to undertake research into nuclear energy and to produce and use it for peaceful purposes. In return, the five declared nuclear-weapon states would reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear weapons.
More recently, our countries formed the New Agenda Coalition to press for the world envisaged by the treaty, a world in which nuclear weapons would have no role. Our philosophy is that the world will be safe only when nuclear weapons are eliminated and we can be sure they will never be produced or used again.
At their meeting this month in New York as part of the five-year review conference called for in the treaty, the signatories will have a timely opportunity to scrutinize what efforts are being made by the nuclear-weapon states - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - in fulfilling their obligations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
For our part, we remain concerned about their unsatisfactory progress. At the review conference five years ago, the nuclear-weapon states made an "unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." This goal is all the more important in a world in which terrorists seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the nuclear-weapon states should acknowledge that disarmament and nonproliferation are mutually reinforcing processes: What does not exist cannot proliferate.
It's true that challenges to the treaty are being made by those who would defy or undermine its rules against proliferation - the review conference will need to address concerns that have arisen in recent years about proliferation in various countries. It's also true that the possession of weapons by the declared nuclear powers is no excuse for other nations to develop their own nuclear arsenals.
But challenges also come from fears that existing nuclear arsenals will be extended or modified rather than destroyed. They come from any member that seeks to diminish previous undertakings. They come from any member whose approach fails to reflect the careful balance of the treaty. While nearly 190 countries are now parties to the treaty, the New Agenda Coalition continues to call those states that remain outside - India, Israel and Pakistan - to join as non-nuclear weapon states, thus achieving universality.
In his recent report "In Larger Freedom," the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, pointed out that "the unique status of the nuclear-weapon states also entails a unique responsibility, and they must do more, including but not limited to further reductions in their arsenals and pursuing arms control agreements that entail not just dismantlement but irreversibility." We call on these states, which are also permanent members of the Security Council, to seize this opportunity for leadership to help strengthen the treaty as the cornerstone of international security.
We welcome the statement by President George W. Bush on the 35th anniversary of the entry into force of this treaty in which he reaffirmed the "determination of the United States to carry out its treaty commitments and to work to ensure its continuance in the interest of world peace and security." We have taken at face value such commitments to the treaty.
Proliferation is a threat to the whole international community. All states have an interest and a responsibility to work together to remove that threat. Forging common cause is as much the responsibility of the nuclear-weapon states as it is for the rest of us. The New Agenda Coalition for its part will be playing a constructive role in ensuring a strong outcome to the review conference, an outcome that makes a difference especially in removing the threats of proliferation and the continuing existence of huge arsenals of nuclear weapons.
(Celso Amorim is the foreign minister of Brazil. Ahmed Aboul Gheit is the foreign minister of Egypt. Dermot Ahern is the foreign minister of Ireland. Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista is the foreign minister of Mexico. Phil Goff is the foreign minister of New Zealand. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is the foreign minister of South Africa. Laila Freivalds is the foreign minister of Sweden.)


Article IV loophole

The Bush administration's concern during this review of the Nuclear Nonprofilferation Treaty is what has been come to be called the article IV loophole. They are absolutely right it is a large hole that allow any nation to move right to the edge of nuclear weapons capability without breaking the treaty. This needs to be fixed.


North Korea, which declared its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 and claims to have built nuclear bombs, said this weekend it was giving up negotiating over its weapons program with a George W. Bush-led United States. It was another blow to the suspended six-party talks aimed at bringing Pyongyang back into the NPT.

Iran, meanwhile, said it will probably restart operations this week related to its disputed uranium enrichment program, which Washington contends is a cover for nuclear weapons plans.

The "nuclear fuel cycle" is key to suspicions about Iran's intentions. The NPT's Article IV guarantees nonweapons states the right to peaceful nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment equipment to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. But that same technology, with further enrichment, can produce material for nuclear bombs.

Annan said states such as Iran "must not insist" on obtaining such sensitive technology domestically, but should have international access to nuclear fuel.

Meanwhile, "a first step would be to expedite agreement to create incentives for states to voluntarily forgo the development of fuel-cycle facilities," the U.N. chief said.

In fact, the Tehran government, which denies it plans to convert uranium for weapons, is in off-and-on talks with European negotiators about shutting down its enrichment operations in return for economic incentives.

In addition, Mohamad ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, who also was addressing the conference opening, has proposed putting nuclear fuel production under multilateral control, by regional or international bodies.

This "Article IV loophole" was expected to be a major issue before the NPT conference, but many other governments also complain the United States and other big powers are moving too slowly toward scrapping their nuclear arms under the NPT. (Link)



"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

- Albert Einstein


Farmers can't make food on poor soil

The book at the top of my recommended reading list is Collapse. It is marvellous. I have studied the environment for over a decade but it was a wake-up call to me about a pair of environmental threats that I had not concerned myself about: soil erosion and soil degradation (in other words loss of soil fertility). As a note my background is in atmospheric studies so I had focused on climate change, ozone depletion and acid rain.

If I had not read this book I would not have flagged this story for you. But it was very consistant in his case studies, three envrionmental factor brought down civilizations,: deforestation, soil erosion, and soil degradation.


European farming is being threatened by declining soil quality, particularly in eastern states, according to a report.

More than 16% of EU land is affected by soil degradation but more than a third is affected in eastern countries.

Costly measures to boost soil fertility put pressure on the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU's farming subsidy system, says the Soil Atlas of Europe.

Urbanisation, climate change, pollution and poor farming practices contribute to declining soil quality, it says.

The atlas, produced by the EU's Joint Research Centre, is the first full assessment of Europe's soil.

Simple measures

Changing land management practices are widely blamed for declining soil quality across Europe.

In southern Europe, nearly 75% of soil has an organic matter content - a measure of soil fertility - low enough to cause concern. In England and Wales, the percentage of soils classed as low in organic matter rose from 35% to 42% between 1980 and 1995.

"Agriculture depends on healthy soil. But changes in farming, land use and climate are threatening the health of soil in many areas," Arwyn Jones, research scientist at the Joint Research Centre told the Financial Times newspaper.

"As the atlas points out, we owe our existence to a thin layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains."

The major threats to soil quality identified by the atlas are erosion, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, the loss of organic content, pollution from industry, the loss of biodiversity, salinity, the compacting of soil by agricultural vehicles, landslides and flooding.

Authors of the report say farmers have failed to exercise simple measures to protect soil quality, such as composting it.

"We definitely undervalue the contribution of soil to our biodiversity, but unless we protect it better we will soon realise its importance in the worst possible way - by seeing the problems caused by its loss," said Janez Potocnik, the EU commissioner for science and research.

The study will form the basis of an EU soil framework directive which is intended to shield Europe's soil from further damage. (Link)


Italy releases its report on the Calipari/Sgrena shooting

The short version of the Italian version of events is that the American soldiers were scared punk kids with little to no training in how to run a police checkpoint. The U.S. military trains its soldiers to kill, which is useful in a high intensity conflict where you will be shoting anyone you see, But Iraq is a low intensity conflict where most people are a neutral medium in which the fight is taking place. The winner in a low intensity conflict is the one that makes the neutrals side with them. This report gives us a glimpse into why the Americans are failling, or have fail because they may not be able to recover from this point.


Italy has published a report into the shooting of a secret agent by US troops at a roadblock in Iraq, which conflicts with the US version of events.

The report blames the troops' stress and inexperience, and says the US authorities should have signalled that there was a checkpoint on the road.

But it adds that it was difficult to pinpoint individual responsibility for Nicola Calipari's 4 March shooting.

Calipari was killed as he escorted hostage Giuliana Sgrena to freedom.

The Italian foreign ministry delayed the release of the 52-page report, and it was given to senior Italian officials and to US ambassador Mel Sembler ahead of publication.

Disputed circumstances

The report, published on the Italian intelligence services' website, says that the roadblock from which Calipari was shot was set up ineptly and there were no signals indicating its presence.

"It is likely that the state of tension stemming from the conditions of time, circumstances and place, as well as possibly some degree of inexperience and stress might have led some soldiers to instinctive and little-controlled reactions," the report said, quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

It denied the US assertion that their military command in Baghdad was unaware of the Italian mission to secure the hostage's release, pointing out that the Italians had been allocated secure accommodation in an American-controlled area.

It said that the Italian car had been travelling at 40-50km/h, while the American version said it was going at about twice that speed.

The Italian report described the US soldiers' description of the car's speed as "emotionally biased".

Observers say that following the report from the US military's investigation panel, relations between the two countries have deteriorated considerably.

The findings in the US report were heavily censored, with large blocks of the text blacked out when it was published.

However, a university student in Italy claims he was able to remove the censored parts using his computer and has passed a seemingly full US report to Italy's media.

Details of personnel

The Bologna student, after surfing the web on Sunday, found he could restore censored portions of the 40-page US report with a couple of clicks of his computer mouse.

He passed the details to Italian newspapers, which put out the full text on their websites.

The apparently full text contains a few details that US authorities would have preferred to remain secret - such as the names and ranks of the US military personnel involved in Calipari's death - the BBC's David Willey says from Rome.

Our correspondent adds that the censored material also includes embarrassing details about communication failures and reveals the rules of engagement at checkpoints.

The US invited two Italians to join in their inquiry, but the Italian representatives protested at what they claimed was lack of objectivity in presenting the evidence and returned to Rome.

It is their dissenting report which has now been published. (Link)

Here is a link to the different version of this even.


U.S. fails to properly censor its report on Calipari/Sgrena

Someone in the defense department made a mistake when censoring the American version of the report on the shooting. An Italian IT worker was able undo the censoring on the PDF version of the document.


When news started circulating in Italy that a heavily censored Pentagon report into the death of secret agent Nicola Calipari had been decrypted, many thought it must be the work of some top-notch hacker.

In fact, it turned out that the classified document, containing top-secret details - such as the name of the soldier who fired the deadly rounds of ammunition - could be made readable with two simple clicks of your computer mouse.

A few hours after the Pentagon published the report on its website, a few Italian readers found they could make the blacked-out paragraphs reappear by cutting and pasting them from the site into a Word document.

Salvatore Schifani, a 30-year-old IT worker, spotted the document at about 0300 local time (0100 GMT) on Saturday night.

He said he had just come home from a night out and wanted to check the latest news before going to sleep.

"I played around on my computer by highlighting the text, I found out the words were still there under the blacked-out bits," he told web-based Repubblica radio.

"It really surprised me, because the best way of not making this information available would have been not to write it down in the first place, rather than putting it there and then trying to conceal it in such a silly way," he added.

A human mistake while processing the text using a common programme known as Acrobat has presumably led to this embarrassing gaffe.

A simple command would have been enough to turn the blacked-out bits into a permanent. (Link)


Monday, May 02, 2005


One of the real monsters of the Deep

Just a little reminder that the Earth is a dynamic system, especially the biosphere.

By the way this is one of the little know people-killers out there: lethal squid attacks.


A pleased Gudmund (Gudy) Gudmundseth was about to call it quits on a day when the weather was fine and the fishing even better.

He and a buddy had already landed five spring salmon using trolled herring when they got another bite.

Whatever was at the other end was in no hurry to come aboard.

"It went for a huge run, then nothing," Mr. Gudmundseth said. "Another huge run, then nothing. I thought I had a salmon. Then I thought I had a halibut. Then I didn't know what I had."

Aboard Miss Piggy II on a beautiful fall afternoon in the ocean about 20 kilometres southwest of Carmanah Point on Vancouver Island, a self-employed roofing contractor was about to earn a small place in the lore of Canadian marine biology.

The sport fisherman scooped his catch into a net. He remembers thinking, "What the hell?"

What he first suspected was an octopus turned out to be a squid, but a larger one than he had seen before. He was going to throw it back when he noticed a hook had pierced the doomed creature's left eye. As he made a quip about calamari, the squid ejected its ink.

He flung it onto the deck of the powerboat, opened the hatch and kicked it into the hold.

Only later, after he brought it home on ice to Maple Bay, where it was identified by a marine biologist, did Mr. Gudmundseth fully appreciate the nature of the creature.

"I didn't know it was a Humboldt squid," he said. "A man-eater." For the first time in recorded history, a Dosidicus gigas had been captured for study from the temperate waters of the northeastern Pacific. The invertebrate had never been seen this far north until late last year.

Now, as warmer weather again returns to the coast, scientists wonder whether a sequel will be available this summer. Call it Return of the Jumbo Flying Squid.

Some descriptions from witnesses sound like the plot to a horror movie -- water roiling with tentacles; otherworldly creatures suddenly launching into the air from beneath the surface; nightfall bringing to the surface vicious predators that slip back into the depths at daybreak, like vampires of the sea.

A Humboldt squid can grow to the size and weight of a hockey player. So, imagine Todd Bertuzzi with bulging eyes, eight arms, two tentacles, three hearts, a beak for a mouth, a brain wrapped around his esophagus and gullet with a willingness -- nay, eagerness -- to dine on his own kind every other meal, and you get a sense of how the squid has earned such a fearsome reputation.

Mexican fishermen call the creature el diablo rojo -- the red devil.

"They're just the kind of thing nightmares are made of," said Jim Cosgrove, the natural history manager at the Royal B.C. Museum.

"It's a big animal, a powerful animal, a hunter. They can drag you down. They're going to get a bad rep. That's nature's way."

Mr. Cosgrove made the official identification of the fisherman's catch last October. He knew it was not a neon flying squid, Ommastrephes bartrami, common in these waters, as soon as he saw the suckers. The Humboldt squid's suckers, which have a semi-circular row of small but razor-sharp teeth, swivel 360 degrees, corkscrewing into hapless prey.

The creature -- named RBCM 004-050-001 -- was fixed in formalin for eight days before being placed in a 60-per-cent solution of isopropanol. Once it was ready for permanent preservation, scientists measured the small female's length (1.36 metres) and weight (6.4 kilograms).

The Humboldt squid's range stretches from California and the waters off Mexico, where it supports a commercial fishery for export to Japan, to as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. It was first reported as far north as Oregon in 1997 and San Francisco in 1932.

Last year, the museum obtained 11 specimens captured in nearby waters. Some were seen as far north as Alaska.

Ask why the squid has arrived in British Columbia's coastal waters and Mr. Cosgrove has more questions than answers.

"Did they follow a food fish moving north? Are they here for good, or are they here for a short time? Are they going to go after juvenile salmon? You get one answer and 10 questions."

A glass case at the museum contains the remains of a Humboldt squid in a display about global warming titled, "Nature on the move."

Those thriving in the warmer climate include the ocean sunfish, the burrowing owl, the gopher snake, the American badger, the brittle prickly pear and the Garry oak.

Those wilting and on the retreat include the Pacific salmon, the northern abalone, the northern hawk owl, the Vancouver Island marmot, the western red cedar as well as the 12-spotted skimmer, a dragonfly.

Mr. Cosgrove suspects warmer waters are responsible for the Humboldt's arrival, as data from the ocean-chemistry branch of the Institute of Ocean Sciences showed in August the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded. One station checked in at 18.9 C.

"Like bathwater," he said.

Warmer waters this year are hard to imagine, he said, although a mild El Nino, which should increase temperature, is expected.

Mr. Cosgrove is a long-time scuba diver who early in his career worked with octopuses in underwater shows at a tourist attraction in Victoria's Inner Harbour.

He has since assisted many underwater film crews, including one shoot in which he had a narrow escape.

An octopus latched on to his arm, his chest and his face.

He struggled for three minutes to prevent the regulator from being pulled from his mouth, until the octopus tired and retreated to its den. The diver surfaced with three red welts on his forehead as a souvenir of his close call.

Seeking a Humboldt squid underwater is "like looking for grizzly bears" on land, he said, a project in which caution, as well as a good escape route, is essential.

Another reason why fishermen fear the Humboldt squid is its behaviour toward its own species in danger.

A squid caught on a jig is likely to be devoured by its brethren before being hauled aboard.

Add to its rap sheet the crime of cannibalism.

Mr. Cosgrove and his fellow marine biologists are curious to know if the squid will return. They have asked the abalone fishery, which works along the continental shelf, to be on the lookout for the strange creatures.

"It's like waiting for Christmas," Mr. Cosgrove said.

"We have to wait until the end of summer to see if there are any boxes to open." (Link)


Family values, I think not.

Stupid immigration rules can tear families apart.


John Parsons' dream to settle his family in the hometown he loved has died, the victim of a tough U.S. border enforcement policy he believes makes no sense. Homeland Security officials say they're just doing their job.

On a Saturday morning, April 23, Reem Parsons, 37, was waiting in the Toronto airport for a flight home after a three-day visit with her parents. She had traveled to Canada to make baptismal arrangements for her and John's 6-month-old daughter, Isabelle, who had accompanied her on the trip. Immigration agents pulled the mother and child from the line. They took them into a room and began to question Reem.

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She told them she had an American husband in Missouri, that they'd recently moved back from France, that her daughter was an American citizen. They were headed home to Cape Girardeau, she told them. No they weren't, she said an agent told her. He told her she was a prospective immigrant and didn't have the appropriate visa.

He photographed her, fingerprinted her and told her if she tried to enter the United States she would be arrested. She could, if she liked, send the baby on. Isabelle, after all, was an American citizen. Reem said she declined. The agents escorted her and the child back into the terminal. She called her husband.

Last year, the U.S. refused entry to 600,000 of the 500 million people processed at U.S. borders. In this case, it's tearing a family apart. . . (Link)


Scooters rise in NYC

There is a good scene in the movie "The Interpreter" that revolves around a scooter. A secret service agent is assigned to clandestinely shadow a woman. When he sees that she has a scooter he knows he is screwed because he can neither follow it on foot or in a car.


Scooters have long hummed around the edges of New York life as either a faddish enthusiasm or a means of transport best suited to the city's small army of couriers and food deliverers. But they have never gained traction here as a tool of mass transit the way they have in European and Asian cities. . .

Retailers and manufacturers say that the number of people buying scooters is increasing, and that a confluence of events, including high gas prices, rising public transportation costs and the re-entry of foreign scooter manufacturers into the American market, are causing more New Yorkers to consider two wheels.

Paolo Timoni, president and chief executive of Piaggio USA, which manufactures Vespas, said the company sold more than 1,000 Vespas in New York City last year, an increase of 128 percent from 2003. (Link)


A minefiled becomes a continental greenbelt

Here is the link to a story about a unique opportunity that is not being wasted.



Sunday, May 01, 2005


Gaza Disengagement: A Cynic's View

People have taken to calling Ariel Sharon a "man of peace". Those who have a working knowledge of modern Israeli history will be confused by this description, blood-thirsty manic might be another description. Yet, he is pushing disengagement in Gaza (but not in the West Bank). Here is a view from Israel that is not as charitable towards him. This description is closer to what I would expect of the Ariel Sharon of the history books.

All of this should not detract from the real gain that the palestinians are getting from the disengagement, or should one always assume that an old war horse can not learn new tricks.

That being said, I suspect that Ariel Sharon is being a practical son of a bitch.


Disengagement from Gaza is the first step in Ariel Sharon's grand scheme to permanently alter the political map of the region. The next phase is the unilateral imposition of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries - PSPB - in scattered enclaves on the West Bank and Gaza.

The implementation of this strategy will perpetuate the conflict and effectively put an end to the promise of a permanent settlement. This disingenuous reinterpretation of a two-state solution must be rejected. It can only be averted through a return to the negotiating table and the creation of a contiguous and viable Palestine alongside Israel by agreement.

The prime minister's pursuit of the withdrawal from Gaza has obscured what can now be termed the Sharon Doctrine. The explicit objective is to secure Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority through control of heavily populated Jewish areas and the exclusion of Palestinian population concentrations. The major shift in Sharon's recent thinking is that demography replaces geography as the basis for Israel's security.

The emerging instrument for the implementation of this strategy is the active promotion of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, an idea contained in the second phase of the road map. The Sharon PSPB, however, diverges from that envisioned in the source in three important respects.

First, the road map calls for the negotiation of a provisional state; Sharon seeks to bring it about unilaterally. Second, the PSPB is viewed as a brief interlude en route to the expeditious conclusion of a final-status agreement; Sharon shows no signs of moving beyond conflict management to conflict resolution. And third, the goal of the Quartet-initiated and Israeli and Palestinian-sanctioned document is the creation of a viable, free and contiguous Palestinian state; Sharon has never accepted this objective.

THE REASONING behind the emerging official doctrine is instructive. The Sharon-led government has never abandoned its conviction that there is no negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. Its treatment of President Mahmoud Abbas and its foot-dragging on opening discussions with the reconstituted Palestinian Authority confirm this mindset.

Domestically, the chronic instability of the Israeli political system and the by-now endemic incapacitation of the peace camp permit the pursuit of a policy which is at odds with the aspirations of the vast majority of Israelis (polls show consistently that 80% support the resumption of negotiations now). Internationally, American preoccupations elsewhere, coupled with overall frustration and fatigue with the Palestinian-Israeli quagmire, have allowed for a revisionist redefinition of the road map which defies its stated purpose.

Swift action in the immediate future, it is presumed, may unleash processes that may yet revive the old Sharon vision of "Jordan is Palestine."

The measures taken to carry out the Sharon Doctrine are already visible on the ground. The continued construction of the wall, the plans for the development of the E1 corridor between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, and the intricate network of road and tunnels devised to connect Jewish settlement blocs and bifurcate Palestinian population clusters are obvious. So, too, are the IDF preparations for the possibility of a third intifada. More subtle are the quixotic attitudes toward the Palestinian Authority, designed to discredit its leadership while assuring its durability so that it can be held responsible in the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal and the airing of the PSPB idea. (Link)


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