Monday, February 16, 2009

Duelling Townhall Meetings

If her name had been Joe, her wife wouldn't have died alone

As a Lacey, Wash., woman found out when she was barred from seeing her dying partner in a Miami hospital, this is an increasingly anti-gay nation, to judge from all the mean-spirited amendments and legislation that have made scapegoats and boogie men of them in recent years.

One moment everything was fine. You were in your stateroom on the cruise ship — it was to be an anniversary cruise — unpacking your things. The kids were in the adjoining stateroom playing with your wife. Suddenly, they banged on the door crying that mom was hurt.

So now you're in the hospital — Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami — waiting for word, and it's not coming. They tell you, Joe (we'll call you Joe) you can't be with her. You plead with them, to no avail. No, Joe, sorry, Joe, we can't tell you anything.

One hour turns to two, two to four, four to six. Your wife is dying and no one she loves is there.

Finally, in the eighth hour, you reach her bedside. You are just in time to stand beside the priest as he administers last rites.

Your wife is dead. Her name was Lisa Marie Pond. She was 39.

It happened, Feb. 18-19, 2007, except that Pond's spouse was not a man named Joe, but a woman named Janice. And there's one other detail. Janice Langbehn who, as it happens, is an emergency room social worker from Lacey, Wash., says the first hospital employee she spoke with was an emergency room social worker. She thought, given their professional connection, they might speak a common language.

Instead, she says, he told her, "I need you to know you are in an anti-gay city and state and you won't get to know about Lisa's condition or see her" — then turned and walked away.

In pictures: The World Press photography awards

The photograph that won Anthony Suau World Press Photo of the Year 2008
The photograph that won Anthony Suau World Press Photo of the Year 2008
AMERICAN photographer Anthony Suau has won the top prize in the World Press Photo competition with an image of a police officer searching a debris-strewn home to ensure the evicted residents have left after a mortgage foreclosure.
The winning photo for Time magazine shows the officer, gun drawn, peering into an open doorway inside the house, which is filled with overturned furniture and boxes.

It illustrates the economic crisis that began with the US housing market but has spread around the globe.


New billboard delivers message to Mayor Villaraigosa in a big way.
Located on the eastbound I-10 Fwy. by Cabazon, CA
A dinosaur has reared its ugly head in the California Desert. This giant is neither jolly nor green, and the outdated paradigm it represents needs to disappear into the fossil record as it has no place in the 21st Century.

Yes, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) is at it again, this time trying to destroy another rural region and unique ecosystem--the California Desert.

To what could be this century's most compelling problem, climate change, the archaic Los Angeles utility has brought its 19th Century solution--build more transmission lines. It has also brought its greed, wanting to own and control these transmission lines rather than share existing transmission routes and transmission capacity planning.

Green Path North is a 500-kilovolt transmission line project and new energy corridor that LADWP wants to establish on protected lands and across scenic vistas of the California Desert, as well as through rural desert communities.

LADWP's preferred route would run for miles though sensitive areas in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, and undeveloped natural areas on public lands.

It would pass through communities from Desert Hot Springs to Hesperia and would impact 30 miles of privately owned property that could be taken from its rural owners through eminent domain proceedings.

Initially, gigantic metal power poles and transmission lines would march across the desert along this 85-mile-long route. But that would be only the beginning.

Approval of the project would entail amending the California Desert Conservation Area Plan, which has protected these lands since 1980. This amendment would designate a new 2- to
5-mile-wide energy corridor on federal lands in which all future oil, water, gas, and additional transmission line projects would be built.

LADWP does not need to destroy the desert to protect the planet. Renewable energy is a big part of the solution to the global climate change problem, but as other nations have discovered, the technology is now available to generate this energy locally, using true innovation like roof-top solar panels, thin film photovoltaic, and other renewable generation technologies applied within Los Angeles' own borders. Existing transmission corridors can be used, in this case the I-10 corridor, using new high-conductivity lines, and sharing with California's other energy producers rather than pursuing LADWP's proprietary agenda using phantom congestion scares.

We cannot allow archaic thinking, selfish promotion of proprietary interests, and unfair exploitation of rural communities  to dominate the renewable energy discussion and compromise California's desert bioregion and its communities.

Should you keep taking that multivitamin?

Booster Shots
Oddities, musings and some news from the world of health.
by Karen Kaplan

The news about vitamins keeps getting worse.

A spate of high-profile studies published in the last few years showed that a variety of popular supplements -– including calcium, selenium and vitamins A, C and E –- didn't do anything to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke or a variety of cancers. (A roundup on the studies can be found here.)

But what about multivitamins? These combination pills, which contain 10 to 30 vitamins and minerals, are the most popular dietary supplements sold in America. A report published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests they shouldn't be.

The study tracked 161,808 participants in the Women's Health Initiative, a long-term effort to identify risk factors for cancer, heart disease and bone health among postmenopausal women. Subjects hailed from all over the country and included white, black, Latina, Asian and Native American women. They were followed for an average of nearly eight years.

Overall, 41.5% of study participants took some version of a multivitamin. Those women were more likely to be white and college-educated, live in the West, exercise and have a lower body mass index.

However, they weren't any more likely to ward off a diagnosis of breast, ovarian, lung, stomach, bladder, kidney, colorectal or endometrial cancer compared with women who didn't take multivitamins. Nor were the pills helpful in preventing heart attacks, strokes, blood clots or the risk of death from any cause during the study period.

The research team, led by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, did find one modest benefit: The 3,741 women who took stress multivitamins –- formulations with higher doses of several B vitamins along with an extra jolt of vitamin C -– were 25% less likely to have a heart attack. No other correlations between vitamins and health outcomes were statistically significant.

7 Items You Won't Believe Are Actually Legal

article image

Drugs, artillery emplacements, napalm, prostitution - sometimes it seems like the best things in life are illegal. For some reason, the fascists who control this country don't believe in your God given right to smoke meth and man a 155-millimeter Howitzer.

Luckily for us, there are a lot of awesome things out there that Uncle Sam amazingly hasn't taken away from us yet. Read this article, and then go and pick up one of everything while you still can!


Holy Shit, Really?

Yes. There are currently no federal laws governing or restricting the ownership of flame-throwing devices. Some states have laws restricting possession of flamethrowers, with violations only considered to be misdemeanors, but 40 states have absolutely no laws whatsoever concerning flamethrowers. Only in America would a device capable of launching rivers of fire at people be less regulated than marijuana.

Careful with that pot, it looks dangerous.

Where Can I Get One?

You can sometimes find professionally made flamethrowers being sold by private buyers online, some for as little as $300. Also, if you're unsure on how to use your new device, but you want the source of your advice to be batshit insane, you could pick up Ragnar Benson's delightful read, Breath Of The Dragon: Homebuilt Flamethrowers, which we can only hope comes with a cellphone with the numbers 9 and 1 already dialed.

What Should I Do With it?

Actually using your flamethrower is somewhat more difficult than acquiring it. It seems that lawmen these days have rules about when and where you're allowed to shoot gallons of flaming fuel. We recommend making friends with someone who owns a few acres of land out in the country and then going hog wild. If you accidentally start a wildfire, don't fret: Flamethrowers are just as good at stopping fires as they are at starting them. Just burn everything around the fire to cinders, and it won't have anywhere to spread!

Holy Balls, Why is it Legal?

Cracked cannot overstate the importance of destroying the horrifying bee menace. As a potent combination of "deadly" and "too small to shoot," the Africanized Honey Bee is quite possibly mankind's most dangerous enemy. Enter the flamethrower: your first, last, and only line of defense against the black and yellow hordes. In 1968, Brazilian firefighters armed with flamethrowers defended a group of children from the onslaught of buzzing death. This is apparently not an uncommon happening in nations fighting off the advancing bee legions.

Eight arrested in Michael Phelps case

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - New details have emerged about a party where Olympic champion Michael Phelps was spotted.

On Feb. 2, a British tabloid published a picture of the 14-time Olympic gold medalist using a water pipe to smoke marijuana. The picture was taken at a party in Columbia back in November when Phelps was here for a visit.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department has been taking a lot of heat from people in this country and all over the world.

They want to know why Sheriff Leon Lott is going after Michael Phelps.

Many are saying the sheriff should concentrate on more serious crimes, or at the very least, not focus solely on the Olympic champion when there were others at the party who were also breaking the law.

Now it appears the case has expanded beyond Phelps' activities.

The party took place in November at a house on Blossom Street near Five Points.

It was at that house where someone snapped the photo of Phelps taking a hit on a marijuana pipe called a bong.

Lott says the picture indicated a law was being broken in his jurisdiction. He said he couldn't ignore the violation just because Phelps is rich and famous.

We've now learned that since investigators began trying to build a case, they've made eight arrests: seven for drug possession and one for distribution. These are arrests that resulted as the sheriff's department served search warrants.

We've also learned that the department has located and confiscated that bong.

Sources say the owner of the bong was trying to sell it on eBay for as much as $100,000.

The owner, who wasn't even at the party, is one of the eight now charged.

A 'fraud' bigger than Madoff

Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions

By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaimaniyah, Northern Iraq

In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.

In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption.

700 comments tell the FTC "No DRM!"

The Federal Trade Commission's DRM conference coming up in March has already attracted 700 user comments... nearly all of them negative. Gamers currently appear to be the single most vocal group on the topic.

The Federal Trade Commission wants to know about DRM, and it's hosting a March conference on the topic. The agency looks set to get an earful—today is the final day to file public comments, and more than 700 individuals have already done so. Surprisingly, the main concerns in the comments don't appear to be about DVDs or protected music files but about video games. If FTC staff didn't know much about SecuRom, Spore, install limits, and activation codes before the conference, they will soon be experts on the topics.

The big players in these sorts of public hearings follow a predictable plan: they hold their filings until the final day for submissions, apparently out of a desire not to tip their hand to opponents and give them a chance to directly address their arguments. The strategy appears to be in play in the DRM proceeding, with only a fistful of corporate or think thank names appearing among the 700 current submissions.

The upside of this behavior is that it makes it simple to browse the comments and get a sense of what those without political clout think of the issue. And, when it comes to DRM, they don't have much good to say—our troll through 30 or 40 comments turned up only a couple that supported DRM. (Including this pithy submission: "The FTC has no place in a matter between private enterprise and public consumption. You are a blight on free speech and a waste of taxpayer dollars.")

While some comments were brief to the point of unhelpfulness ("NO DRM!") and some were filed by a 17-year old Dutch gamer and other non-US residents, most comments stand out for being relatively informed on the issues.

User comments are generally short and lack the polish of the "professional commenters," but they have a "man on the street" authenticity to them. Most make cases against DRM that we've all heard before: it limits buyers but not pirates, it turns content into something "licensed" and controlled rather than sold outright, it has been responsible for root kits, it doesn't work, etc. But such complaints gain their power from the sea of specific examples provided in the comments, brief stories of real people negatively impacted by DRM while attempting to perform legal activities.

My father... received a digital media player for his birthday, so he went and downloaded a track from the largest music sites—iTunes. However, his music player only supported WMA, so his money was wasted.

One commenter writes, for instance, about his father's attempt to buy music online. "The compatibility problems DRM can introduce have been readily apparent in the digital music market," he says. "People have been buying digital music players they call 'MP3 players' because the MP3 format popularized digital music. However, when they went to download digital music, they were almost invariably restricted to one of two formats: WMA and iTunes. No one device supported both formats, so some users who hadn't followed the market bought music they couldn't play. My father was one such consumer. He received a digital media player for his birthday, so he went and downloaded a track from the largest music sites—iTunes. However, his music player only supported WMA, so his money was wasted."

How your looks betray your personality


THE history of science could have been so different. When Charles Darwin applied to be the "energetic young man" that Robert Fitzroy, the Beagle's captain, sought as his gentleman companion, he was almost let down by a woeful shortcoming that was as plain as the nose on his face. Fitzroy believed in physiognomy - the idea that you can tell a person's character from their appearance. As Darwin's daughter Henrietta later recalled, Fitzroy had "made up his mind that no man with such a nose could have energy". Fortunately, the rest of Darwin's visage compensated for his sluggardly proboscis: "His brow saved him."

The idea that a person's character can be glimpsed in their face dates back to the ancient Greeks. It was most famously popularised in the late 18th century by the Swiss poet Johann Lavater, whose ideas became a talking point in intellectual circles. In Darwin's day, they were more or less taken as given. It was only after the subject became associated with phrenology, which fell into disrepute in the late 19th century, that physiognomy was written off as pseudoscience.

Now the field is undergoing something of a revival. Researchers around the world are re-evaluating what we see in a face, investigating whether it can give us a glimpse of someone's personality or even help to shape their destiny. What is emerging is a "new physiognomy" which is more subtle but no less fascinating than its old incarnation.

Reality and Hallucination: Towards a Talmudic Ontology of Consensus (by way of demons)

 by Aharon 

In his 1978 essay, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later", Philip K. Dick wrote, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." This ontology is challenged by a syndrome recently brought to my attention in a recent post on, "Hallucinations brought on by eye disease," wherein David Pescovitz writes,

In recent days, both the Daily Mail and looked at Charles Bonnet Syndrome [CBS], a disease characterized by bizarre and vivid visual hallucinations. Interestingly, people who suffer from CBS aren't mentally ill but have visual impairments such as macular degeneration. Even weirder is that the hallucinations often involve characters or things that are much smaller in size than reality.

Read the whole post and follow the link to this article at the Daily Mail on Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and this interview at Wired with neurologist Oliver Sachs. Together, they provide an insight for understanding a particularly fascinating method given in the Talmud for seeing Mazikin (lit. harmful spirits, ie. demons). Mazikin are a class of sheydim (animistic spirits) that pervaded the natural world in the Rabbinic Jewish worldview of late antiquity. From תלמוד בבלי ברכות ו א (Talmud Bavli Tractate Berakhot, 6a):

תניא אבא בנימין אומר אלמלי נתנה רשות לעין לראות אין כל בריה יכולה לעמוד מפני המזיקין אמר אביי אינהו נפישי מינן וקיימי עלן כי כסלא לאוגיא אמר רב הונא כל חד וחד מינן אלפא משמאליה ורבבתא מימיניה אמר רבא האי דוחקא דהוי בכלה מנייהו הוי הני ברכי דשלהי מנייהו הני מאני דרבנן דבלו מחופיא דידהו הני כרעי דמנקפן מנייהו האי מאן דבעי למידע להו לייתי קיטמא נהילא ונהדר אפורייה ובצפרא חזי כי כרעי דתרנגולא האי מאן דבעי למחזינהו ליתי שלייתא דשונרתא אוכמתא בת אוכמתא בוכרתא בת בוכרתא ולקליה בנורא ולשחקיה ולימלי עיניה מניה וחזי להו ולשדייה בגובתא דפרזלא ולחתמי' בגושפנקא דפרזלא דילמא גנבי מניה ולחתום פומיה כי היכי דלא ליתזק רב ביבי בר אביי עבד הכי חזא ואתזק בעו רבנן רחמי עליה ואתסי

It has been taught:

Abba Benjamin says, If the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the Mazikin.

Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field.

R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right. [Psalm 91:7]

Raba says: The crushing in the Kallah lectures comes from them.  Fatigue in the knees comes from them. The wearing out of the clothes of the scholars is due to their rubbing against them. The bruising of the feet comes from them. If one wants to discover them,  let him take sifted ashes and sprinkle around his bed, and in the morning he will see something like the footprints of a rooster. If one wishes to see them, let him take the placenta of a black she-cat [that is] the offspring of a black she-cat [that is] the first-born of a first-born, let him roast it [the placenta] in fire and grind it to powder, and then let him put some into his eye, and he will see them. Let him also pour it into an iron tube and seal it with an iron signet that they [the demons] should not steal it from him. Let him also close his mouth, lest he come to harm.

R. Bibi b. Abaye did so,  saw them and came to harm. The scholars, however, prayed for him and he recovered.

Could Raba's magic recipe for perceiving demons by placing ash in one's eye create a condition like Charles Bonnet Syndrome?

Women, Know Your Limits

Iraq concedes election fraud

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials nullified election results in more than 30 polling stations due to fraud in last month's provincial balloting, but the cases were not significant enough to require a new vote in any province, the election chief said yesterday.

Poll results will be announced on Wednesday.

Violence continued unabated. A civilian, an Iraqi and an American soldier were shot down in front of their homes in three separate attacks in the northern city of Mosul, while a bomb blast near a market in Baghdad's Shi'ite slum district of Sadr City killed a man and wounded 19 other people.

The army uncovered 10 bodies in a shallow mass grave in Al Taji, near Baghdad, believed to date back about two years to a period when Al Qaeda terrorised the area.

And in an act of defiance against sucide attacks, tens of thousands of pilgrims crowded the Imam Hussein mosque in Karbala yesterday to mark Arbain, one of the most important events in the Shi'ite calendar.

l Iraq is employing too many people in government jobs and a fall in oil prices makes the situation untenable, a UN report warned yesterday.

A dominant public sector, which offers secure and relatively highly-paid jobs, is stifling efforts to create viable businesses offering alternative employment, it said.

Homeland Security TV: Be Very Afraid

By Ken Silverstein

This is new to me: the Homeland Security Television Channel, "the world's first online, on-demand television network dedicated to homeland security and global development." The channel is also "dedicated to facilitating rapid awareness of new technologies and services, and assisting in the transfer of those technology solutions to the government and critical infrastructure marketplace."

Which explains why the editorial board includes Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security and CEO of Ridge Global of (one of the channel's sponsors); Rear Admiral David Stone, the former assistant secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration and CEO of the Alacrity Homeland Group; and the savior of New Orleans, former FEMA chief Michael Brown. According to the channel's investment guide, the channel's mission is "Helping New & Emerging Companies Achieve Market Leadership and Unrivaled Brand Awareness."

Make sure to check out the channel's new series: "The Threat Matrix."

The Post-Bush Era