Friday, May 21, 2010


What BP's Blocking of CBS Crew Means for Americans

By Kevin Gosztola

CBS journalists were filming a beach in South Pass, Louisiana, when, according to CBS, a "boat of BP contractors and two Coast Guard officers told them to turn around or be arrested." The incident is thought by bloggers tracking the oil leak in the Gulf to not be the only time that BP has challenged the right of journalists to film.

If in fact BP has instructed crews to specifically regulate and turn away groups with video cameras or even still cameras, this raises many questions about what Americans are able to access and not access, what theyare able to document and not document.

Should a person have to be embedded with authorities, corporations or organizations at the center of a disaster in order to document a disaster? Must a person be with a recognized news organization that regularly gets into press conferences in order to film critical events like the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico right now?

Journalists were told by "someone aboard the boat" this is BP's rules, not ours. That alone would be enough to seriously question the situation and ask why citizens should have to follow rules and only document what authorities, corporations, or organizations involved grant citizens permission to document. But, the Coast Guard was present and they released a statement on the matter that was published by the Mother Nature Network.

"CBS Evening News reported they were denied access to oiled shoreline by a civilian vessel that had clean-up workers contracted by BP, as well as Coast Guard personnel on board. CBS News video taped the exchange during which time one of the contractors told them (on tape) that " ... this is BP's rules not ours."

Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La.

The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations. This did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

The entities involved in the Deepwater Horizon/BP Response have already reiterated these media access guidelines to personnel involved in the response and hope it prevents any future confusion." [emphasis added]

That the Coast Guard, a national military organization, is going along with whatever happened between BP and the CBS journalists should lead those involved in the creation and production of media to be even more concerned. The Coast Guard is, with this statement, legitimizing BP's right to limit the privileges of those wishing to document the destruction.

When one breaks down the "400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date" the Coast Guard claims BP has allowed, it comes out to approximately 13 embeds per day in the month since the oil rig explosion occurred. And, if each embed is one journalist, this means 13 journalists per day have been allowed (on average) to document the disaster and response efforts/failures.

Is this satisfactory? Have all those interested in documenting been allowed to embed and see the devastation? Who has been turned away because BP didn't agree with the intentions or motivations of a videographer or how a journalist wanted to frame the story?

Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals

Toxicologist Says Chemicals Harmful, Can Lead To Death

More and more stories about sick fishermen are beginning to surface after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fishermen are working out in the Gulf -- many of them all day, every day -- to clean up the spill. They said they blame their ailments on the chemicals that BP is using.

One fisherman said he felt like he was going to die over the weekend.

"I've been coughing up stuff," Gary Burris said. "Your lungs fill up."

Burris, a longtime fisherman who has worked across the Gulf Coast, said he woke up Sunday night feeling drugged and disoriented.

"It was like sniffing gasoline or something, and my ears are still popping," Burris said. "I'm coughing up stuff. I feel real weak, tingling feelings."

Marine toxicologist Riki Ott said the chemicals used by BP can wreak havoc on a person's body and even lead to death.

"The volatile, organic carbons, they act like a narcotic on the brain," Ott said. "At high concentrations, what we learned in Exxon Valdez from carcasses of harbor seals and sea otters, it actually fried the brain, (and there were) brain lesions."

Rep. Charlie Melancon said he wants something done. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama's administration calling for temporary health care clinics to be set up in the area.

Now This Is How You Tell A Zombie Debt Collector To Buzz Off!

"RJM Acquisitions" mailed Mark a funny notice asking him to pay up $4,448.23. The address they had associated with it was indeed Mark's, 20 years ago, that is. Not only was the debt invalid, but even if it hadn't, the statute of limitations was well expired. Mark got to work and drafted a kickass letter to dispute the debt and tell them not to contact him again unless they wanted to be sued $1,000 each time. Here is his letter, which can serve as a good model for any other readers fighting off invalid debt collection attempts, and his story:

The Empire Strikes Back: The film that introduced a generation to tragedy

The Empire Strikes Back: The film that introduced a generation to tragedy
Thirty years ago, George Lucas sprung his Star Wars sequel upon a young moviegoing public that was simply unprepared for what they'd see: An unrelenting operatic downer, filled with pain, sacrifice, revelation, and loss. Good times.
Friday is the 30th anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back. There have been, and will be, a ton of pieces commemorating that fact, looking back at the best of the Star Wars saga with dewy-eyed reverence — or recalling how good Star Wars can be when George Lucas isn't directing it.
The Empire Strikes Back: The film that introduced a generation to tragedy
But it's worth remembering that there's a whole generation of people for whom Star Wars was a formative influence — people who were young enough when it was first released in 1977 that A New Hope calibrated both their moral and storytelling compass. Star Wars was a children's fable, a story of good versus evil in which evil gets its ass kicked and good gets an awesome medal and the thanks of a grateful rebellion. And so, 30 years hence, it's easy to forget what a world-shaking shot to the gut The Empire Strikes Back was: Han Solo is frozen solid, Luke gets his hand chopped off, and Darth Vader reveals himself to be his father.
Movies, as far as we knew, weren't supposed to end like that.
The Hero is supposed to win.

Craig Venter creates synthetic life form


Big news all over the place today about a huge scientific achievement led by Dr. J. Craig Venter, some 15 years and tens of millions of dollars in the making. A live press conference is taking place now, as I type this blog post (screengrab above), and you can watch the video online. "We've briefed the White House..." Venter says, as I click publish... followed by an audience question about bioterrorism concerns. This is big stuff. Snip from announcement:

On May 20th, J. Craig Venter and his team at J.C Venter Institute announced the creation of a cell controlled by a synthetic genome in a paper published in SCIENCE. As science historian George Dyson points out, "from the point of view of technology, a code generated within a digital computer is now self-replicating as the genome of a line of living cells. From the point of view of biology, a code generated by a living organism has been translated into a digital representation for replication, editing, and transmission to other cells."

This new development is all about operating on a large scale. "Reading the genetic code of a wide range of species," the paper says, "has increased exponentially from these early studies. Our ability to rapidly digitize genomic information has increased by more than eight orders of magnitude over the past 25 years " This is a big scaling up in our technological abilities. Physicist Freeman Dyson, commenting on the paper, notes that "the sequencing and synthesizing DNA give us all the tools we need to create new forms of life". But it remains to be seen how it will serve in practice.

One question is whether or not a DNA sequence alone enough to generate a living creature. One way of reading of the paper suggests this doesn't seem to be the case because of the use of old microplasma cells into which the DNA was inserted -- that this is not about "creating" life" because, the new life requires an existing living recipient cell. If this is the case, what is the chance of producing something de novo? The paper might appear to be about a somewhat banal technological feat. The new techniques build on existing capabilities. What else is being added, what is qualitatively new?

While it is correct to say that the individual cell was not created, a new line of cells (dare one say species?) was generated. This is new life that is self-propagating, i.e. "the cells with only the synthetic genome are self replicating and capable of logarithmic growth."

Freeman Dyson, commenting on the paper on EDGE, wrote:

I feel sure of only one conclusion. The ability to design and create new forms of life marks a turning-point in the history of our species and our planet.

How to avoid another hung parliament: ban all political parties

If normal people can work together to make collective decisions, so could a set of unaffiliated MPs who care about public service

Terry Jonesby Terry Jones

Of course it has been terrifically exciting in politics since the election, and I don't want to be a spoilsport, but hasn't it also been a teeny-weeny bit embarrassing? The sight of our two major parties scurrying around Nick Clegg sent shudders of revulsion up my spine.

It didn't matter how much they'd ridiculed his policies before and during the election: once he held the key to power, they were cajoling and coaxing him and saying what a thoroughly nice chap he was. You suddenly glimpsed what, I assume all politicians know: that there is no shame in politics.

And so we ended up with a hung parliament. But there would be one simple way of avoiding hung parliaments in future, and that would be to abolish political parties. Simply make it illegal for any MP to collude with another MP.

At one stroke you would make all MPs more responsible to the people who elected them – their constituents. They would be forced to listen to what their constituents actually want, rather than brow-beating them into going along with the party line.

Heavens above! They might even be forced to concentrate more on local issues, and actually represent the constituency which they nowadays merely claim to represent.

You would end up with a parliament of individuals, all with individual voices. Wouldn't that be nice? I know, I know. You say, well, how on earth would these independent MPs ever get to form a government? How would 650 independent members ever manage to agree on a coherent set of policies or on anything?

Well, I would borrow a little device from our legal system. It's called a "jury". At the start of each parliamentary year, the 650 independent MPs would cast lots for who would be the government for that year. Say you limited the government to around 25 people: these 25 would then have to vote which of them was going to be prime minister, home secretary, foreign secretary, etc.

Everyone I've ever talked to who has served on a jury tells me that it is inspiring to see how ordinary people pull together and apply themselves to make sense of the legal arguments. So why should it be any different with politicians? Especially since these are not just ordinary members of the public, but people who have enough interest in politics to actually stand for election in the first place. They would be pre-screened, as it were.

Elvis Costello, in Principled Stand, Cancels Tel Aviv Performances

By Kenneth J. Theisen    

Musician/composer Elvis Costello was scheduled to perform twice in Tel Aviv, Israel in June and July of this year. In a courageous stand, Costello has announced on his website that he has cancelled his appearances at the shows citing Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Costello has joined other artists such as Gil Scott-Heron and Santana who have also cancelled scheduled Israeli performances. Costello is to be commended for his action and words. We must also defend his actions from the political attacks to which he will now be subjected.
In his website he refers to his action as "a matter of instinct and conscience." He writes, "There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act ... and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent…I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security...I hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly."
I commend Costello for his decision. I am sure he is aware of the controversy it will cause and also that he will be attacked by Israeli apologists. He will be accused of anti-Semitism and other calumnies. I have experiences this many times as I have written many articles critical of Israel and it policies.
But it is my hope that in stirring debate people will examine what is actually going on in Palestine and review the 60 year occupation of Palestine by the Zionists. Any unbiased examination will reveal 60 years of crimes by the Israeli Zionist state and the complicity of the U.S. imperialists in these crimes.

Creeping Terror: The New American Way of War

By Chris Floyd
The American way of war is a marvelously ingenious thing. And thoroughly modern too. No more of that "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" jazz; your modern "warfighter" (they aren't called "soldiers" anymore, you know) prefers to view his targets through, say, a computer screen safely ensconced back in the Homeland or thousands of feet in the sky, or else through the unearthly greenish glow of night-vision scopes. And open combat? Forget it. The new American way is the sneak attack on civilian homes in the dead of night. You creep up, you break in, you cap a few ragheads, then you run away. What glory! What magnificent valor!
The Washington Post reports on yet another glorious page in the annals of the exceptional nation "intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world." It's the usual story. Secret "warfighters" suddenly attack a civilian compound in the middle of the night. This, not surprisingly, provokes a few shots from some of the inhabitants, who have no idea who is attacking their home. The superior firepower of the beacons of hope and Christian charity quickly overcome the piddling arms of the demonic heathens, however, and in a trice, there are dead gook - sorry, raghead - bodies all around. Including children - you've got to have children in your body count these days, if you want to be a thoroughly modern Christian beacon warfighter. Then you and your brave band of secret warriors run away and prepare for the next bold raid.
Naturally, the local losers come out and boo-hoo-hoo over their dead relatives, as if no one had ever seen their son shot to death in front of their eyes before. They trot out all their evidence that the victims had nothing to do with the "insurgents" (which is what your modern warfighter calls anyone who objects to the presence of armed foreigners prowling all over their land), they keen and wail and do all the other animalistic stuff that primitives do when one of the pack snuffs it. "Oh, I lost my son, oh my son, my precious son," etc., etc. - as if there's not a dozen more when he came from; you know how those people breed.
But anyway, here's the beauty part: if the local dorky darkies start to complain, you just say, "Hey man, we came under fire! Those monkeys shot at us when we came sneaking up on their house in the middle of the night with our guns drawn. That proves they were bad guys. We had to take them out."
That's it. That's the drill. It happens virtually every week now in Afghanistan - just as it happened time and again in Iraq, back when some guy named Stanley McChrystal was in charge of covert ops for that evil, reactionary throwback, George W. Bush. Whatever happened to old Stan anyway? Oh yeah; the nice, progressive, thoroughly modern Barack Obama put him in charge of the whole shooting match in Afghanistan, as well as the not-so-secret war of assassination in Pakistan. And oddly enough, the slaughter of civilians in both of these target countries has been rising ever since.

There is something wrong with our heads