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newsmongering 02/14 (the “happy singles’ awareness day!” edition)

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> If it is presently February 14 where you are right now (sorry, Australia), Neil Gaiman has a poem for you!

Small Valentine’s Day Poem

Roses are red,
Violets are purple,
Which is a very hard word to rhyme
And makes me happy that on February the 14th we don’t traditionally have to give each other oranges.

Also, if so compelled, you can go to Last.fm and listen to (and download!) his audiobook short story “Harlequin Valentine”. Also, the ebook of “Neverwhere” (which is fantastic) is on sale for $2.99.

/shameless plug

> Today marks the 67th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, an Allied-led bombing mission that killed over 25,000 people in the German city. Dresden has traditionally experienced tensions between neo-Nazi groups who come to the city on a “funeral march” for those they see as their fallen comrades, and other mourners in the city; last year, confrontations turned violent when more than 6,000 right-wing demonstrators clashed with counter-demonstrators, with anti-riot police caught in the middle. This year, however, the remembrance was a largely peaceful affair.

> So after Israel accused Iran of attacks on Israeli diplomats in Georgia and India yesterday, a man believed to be Iranian managed to blow his own legs off with a grenade while trying to throw said grenade at police in Bangkok today (an eyewitness quoted on NPR this afternoon suggested that the man threw the grenade and that it bounced off a tree and landed in front of him). Another Iranian man was detained at the airport, and a third suspect remains at large.

> Remember that time Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) was like, “Abortions are well over 90% of Planned Parenthood’s services!” and then it turned out he didn’t mean it, because the actual number is something like three percent, and it turned out Kyl had rounded to the nearest 90%? Ladies and gentlemen and other-identifying beings, here’s Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) with a repeat performance:

In a chat with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, Hatch said taxpayers are financing abortions, adding that while Planned Parenthood officials claim public funds aren’t used to terminate unwanted pregnancies, “about 95 percent of all they do, from what I understand, is abortions.”


> Speaking of rounding way, way up, Foreign Policy’s ever-excellent Joshua Keating has a hilarious piece on incumbent Turkmenistani President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s win of 97% of the vote in his country’s “elections,” and what Keating refers to as “the dictator’s dilemma”: when fixing an election, what fabricated percentages should be reported?

The 90 percent mark seems to be a useful line to distinguish between the authoritarian governments that care about the international perception of their elections and want to present the appearance of having an  opposition, and those that care only about demonstrating their absolute control to their own citizens.

While neither is a democratic contest, there is a difference — in intended effect at least — between Hosni Mubarak getting 88.6 percent of the vote in 2005 and Bashar al-Assad getting 97.62 percent in a “presidential referendum,” with no opposition candidates, as he did in 2007. Then there’s the 99 percent club, which includes the Castro brothers, and Kim Jong Il. Saddam Hussein went for the full 100 percent in 2002, but then again, he was overthrown a year later. (Why a dictator decides between winning by 97 percent or 99 percent isn’t quite clear.)

> Rick Santorum, father of all that is sensical in this strange, liberal world, would like you to know that  God’s law trumps civil law, and that he is a warrior on the road for religious freedom. Relatedly, Jon Stewart would like evangelical leadership on the far right in this country to please better distinguish between a genocidal war on the foundation of one’s faith and simply not getting what you want all the time.

I mean, seriously.

> Oh hey, speaking of which, if you’ve ever wondered what happens in a hospital when a woman bleeding out from a backalley abortion comes in, this is pretty much it.

> Also, sixteenth-century Spain has totally endorsed Mr. Santorum.

Rick Santorum scored a major coup for his come-from-behind Presidential campaign, when he received the endorsement of 16th-Century Spain, where is he is widely admired.

“We really like his strict stands against gays, abortion, condoms and premarital sex and of course, his staunch opposition to Obama the Moor,” said Friar Sebastian de Montoya, an assistant torturer for the Inquisition in Seville. “We all wish we could vote for him but alas, there are no elections here.”

> So the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has come up for renewal every few years since it was ratified in 1994, and that renewal is usually pretty easy, because it’s sort of a no-brainer. Except this year, for the first time, the bill received no Republican support in committee – in other words, for the first time, it’s not a bipartisan operation. Why, you may ask? Well, new provisions drafted this year include protections for LGBTetc. victims of domestic violence, undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse, and the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic violence; it also expands the number of visas available for undocumented immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence, and forbids discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender by VAWA grantees. The GOP…is not comfortable with this. Apparently.

In a Feb. 2 hearing, Grassley said he backs VAWA reauthorization, but he could not support the Leahy-Crapo version, in part because of the aforementioned provisions on LGBT individuals, immigration and tribal authority.

“The substitute creates so many new programs for underserved populations that it risks losing focus on helping victims, period,” he said of the new LGBT protections, adding, “If every group is a priority, no group is a priority.”

Grassley also objected to the tribal language, saying it was the first time the committee would “extend tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.”

On the immigration front, Grassley said, “VAWA is meant to protect victims of violence. It shouldn’t be an avenue to expand immigration law or give additional benefits to people here unlawfully.”

The New York Times finds this kind of unacceptable:

Mustering the 60 votes needed to get the bill through the full Senate will not be easy, even though previous reauthorizations were approved by unanimous consent. Recalcitrant Republicans should be made to explain to voters why they refuse to get behind the federal fight against domestic violence and sexual assaults.

> Come October, China’s looking at a carefully-orchestrated shakeup of party leadership, and current President Hu Jintao’s heir apparent, Xi (pronounced “she”) Jinping will be in DC early next week. Foreign Policy (in an article titled “Will Xi or Won’t Xi?” on their homepage) characterizes Xi as “the cleanest, least offensive, most loyal politician the party could find” and predicts,

For the next six months, like Hu prior to his ascension to party chairman in 2002, Xi will lay low, producing at most a screed of accepted formula that won’t leave him vulnerable to attack within the party. In January, Xi gave a grindingly orthodox talk on the need for cultural wholesomeness and the need for more “ideological control” over students. He parrots Hu in his quest not to offend his predecessor, talking of the need to preserve harmony, guard against forces of instability, and push “core socialist values,” all Hu buzzwords. Nothing he has said publicly prefigures any radical departure from the previous decade. In the U.S. presidential campaign, surprise, grandiose declarations, and the daily clash among contenders form part of the testing process of possible candidates. The Chinese keep contention well out of sight; the less Xi looks like he is actually chasing the top slot, the better it is for him.

Der Spiegel notes:

…The man visiting the White House this week will be the watchdog over the world’s largest foreign currency reserves, worth about $3.2 trillion (€2.4 trillion), and he will play a key role in determining how China can most effectively take advantage of the current weaknesses of the United States and the Europeans. At the same time, the future president and party leader will have to come to terms with Asian neighbors like Vietnam, countries that, fearing a militarily strengthened Beijing, are increasingly seeking protection with China’s Pacific rival, the United States. Xi will also have to grapple with the biggest challenge to Chinese society, the growing social unrest in a country that produces a large share of the world’s goods and whose economic miracle could be seriously threatened as a result.

So, you know, good times. Or at least fun to watch.

> China’s been in the news in other interesting ways lately. Although American-led intervention in Syria looks unlikely (and ill-advised) at this juncture (see here for more), China has publicly announced that it won’t take any sides militarily should the Syrian situation, um, expand. Which doesn’t actually mean all that much in any actuality – China pretty much doesn’t interfere militarily anytime ever in recent history – but it could potentially send a message to Syrian leadership. I think. China has also called on Iran to pipe down and play nice with the international community regarding the country’s nuclear ambitions.

> Following singer Whitney Houston’s death this weekend, Sony and Apple appear to have both hiked prices of her albums and singles in their digital stores and now stand accused of profiteering by righteously pissy fans. All surprised, please raise your hands.

> The Economist has a groundbreaking piece with the hold-onto-your-hats thesis that workplaces accepting of LGBTetc. employees will probably see better productivity and better attitudes from those employees, to the greater benefit of the company. Ye gods! What an idea!

Still, the gay revolution in the workplace is remarkable. In most places, companies are more liberal than governments. In America, for example, until last year soldiers could be kicked out of the army for being gay, and 29 states still allow discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. In the coming years, the revolution is likely to gather pace. Younger workers are far more relaxed about homosexuality than their parents were. Indeed, many young heterosexuals would feel uncomfortable working for a firm that failed to treat gays decently. Companies vying to recruit them will bear this in mind.

> For Valentine’s Day, have Andrea Gibson performing “How It Ends.” It’s one of my favorites.



Written by whackanarwhal

February 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

newsmongering 02/13

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> I had a fairly relaxed morning today. I wandered upstairs, made breakfast, and sipped my coffee while looking out at the snow. I may have even painted my nails while browsing Facebook. And then I opened The Economist and discovered that birtherism is apparently still a thing.

Last Friday, Michael Malihi, an administrative court judge in Atlanta, became the latest to rule against this piffle. Eight citizens challenged Mr Obama’s eligibility; they were represented by, among others, the indefatigable Orly Taitz, and also by Mark Hatfield, who happens to be a Georgia state representative.

Mr Malihi’s ruling weighs in at a compact but decisive ten pages. The plaintiffs charged that Mr Obama carries a fraudulent social-security number, a forged birth certificate and Indonesian citizenship, and that his real name is either Barry Soetoro or Barack Obama Soebarkah. In support of these claims, Mr Malihi found “the testimony of the witnesses, as well as the exhibits tendered, to be of little, if any, probative value, and thus wholly insufficient to support Plaintiffs’ allegations.” The witnesses whom Ms Taitz called to testify (you can read them here, in the transcript) were never tendered as experts; they simply asserted claims about Mr Obama without providing the court (or anyone else) with any convincing reason to believe those claims.

And I was having such a nice day. The Economist seems to feel my pain:

Hard-core birthers ye will always have with you; they rely upon a hardy zombie of an argument and a resolute imperviousness to facts. But for four years Republicans have been dipping their toes in the fetid swamp that is birtherism, too scared to call a lie a lie. Besides, it proved useful in whipping up suspicion and hostility against Mr Obama. The interesting question now is what happens if Mitt Romney selects Marco Rubio, born in Miami to two Cuban parents, as his running mate? What happens if Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal, born in America to Punjabi parents, seeks the presidency in 2016? If Mr Obama is ineligible then they are too. My guess is you will see the swamp left to the swamp creatures.

> Speaking of swamp creatures, the latest GOP move in the contraception coverage kefluffe is to suggest that employers should be empowered to deny employees access to birth control, as well as – I am not making this up – any other preventative health service, according to the “moral conviction” of the employer. The amendment is titled “RESPECTING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE WITH REGARD TO SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES,” but then fails to be at all specific about items or services, and also, I kind of take issue with the idea that my employer’s “rights of conscience” trumps my right to, you know, mammograms, let alone to decide whether I get access to birth control or not.

“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because —

“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or

“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.

As ThinkProgress’s Igor Volsky notes (linked above),

Under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.

But seriously, let’s think this through. (Yeah, I don’t want to, either, but bear with me here.) I appreciate that this might just be sloppy language within the amendment, but the implication here is that any condition that requires preventative care can be deemed deserved and therefore not worthy of treatment. This isn’t precisely a new concept – the idea that AIDS is divine retribution for loving the wrong people has been around a while, and there’s some rather nasty language that occasionally floats around suggesting that people who smoke are so stupid they deserve lung cancer and other related conditions (I’m guessing most people who say that have never tried to quit smoking). But this time, it’s not just religious leaders or blowhard politicians on late-night radio making those assertions; it’s people who, were this amendment to pass (which is probably won’t, but this could set a precedent I’m really uncomfortable with, and you should be, too), could actually be in a position of deciding whether people deserve preventative care for highly treatable conditions.

I’m just saying, I like my boss, but I’m pretty sure whether I get an IUD or an HIV screening is not actually his business, let alone his decision.

> As long as I’m righteously irritated about someone messing with my healthcare, a poll of 1000 adults by Daily Kos indicates that 51% of respondents self-identifying as “conservative” (so about 168 out of 330) have an “unfavorable opinion” of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings.


Not sure what to do with that.

I understand not having a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood (I disagree, but I get where it comes from). But…breast cancer. Come on, people.

> The Greek parliament voted into effect early this morning harsh austerity measures in an effort to prevent default and to secure a second loan from the IMF.

The new austerity measures include, among others, a 22 percent cut in the benchmark minimum wage and 150,000 government layoffs by 2015 — a bitter prospect in a country ravaged by five years of recession and with unemployment at 21 percent and rising.

But the chaos on the streets of Athens, where more than 80,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday, and in other cities across Greece reflected a growing dread — certainly among Greeks, but also among economists and perhaps even European officials — that the sharp belt-tightening and the bailout money it brings will still not be enough to keep the country from going over a precipice.

The European Commission has welcomed the move, and now urges Greece to continue forward on the two other preconditions required to be eligible for the loan: “setting out exactly how it will make 325m euros of the promised savings, and giving written confirmation that the measures will be implemented regardless of the outcome of April’s election.”

The EU has been the target of much anger among Greeks, who see the reforms as piling unnecessary hardship on ordinary people.

The measures include slashing 15,000 public-sector jobs as part of a longer-term strategy to get rid of 150,000 civil servants.

The minimum wage is also to be cut by 20% to about 600 euros a month, and labour laws are to be liberalised to allow easier hiring and firing of staff.

> Hey, so remember how someone (*cough*Israel*cough*) is picking off Iran’s nuclear scientists? In mid-January,the BBC printed:

Sir Richard Dalton, Britain’s Ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006 and now an associate fellow at the UK think tank, Chatham House, believes the undeclared campaign against Iran’s nuclear scientists is entering a dangerous phase.

“The next step is for Iran to answer like for like” says Dalton.

“If a state is behind this then this is international state terrorism and it’s inviting a response. It looks like a further twist that will lead to a tit-for-tat.”

So earlier today, car bombs in Tbilisi and Delhi targeted Israeli diplomats, and Israel is blaming Iran.

Mr Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party MPs that there had been “two attempts of terrorism against innocent civilians”.

Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” he said.

…Israel’s foreign ministry said the country had the ability to track down those who carried out the attacks.

But Iran’s state news agency Irna quoted the country’s ambassador in India as denying involvement.

“Any terrorist attack is condemned and we strongly reject the untrue comments by an Israeli official,” said Mehdi Nabizadeh in comments translated by Reuters news agency.


Thailand said last month it had arrested a Lebanese man who had links with Hezbollah and a confiscated cache of explosives. Israel responded by urging its citizens to exercise caution while visiting Thailand.

Separately last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel’s ambassador and a local rabbi.

So there’s no way this could possibly end badly.

> At The Atlantic, Steve Clemons thinks an American-led war with Iran (any war with Iran, actually) would be a really bad move. For one thing, it would be really, really ridiculously expensive; for another, as Clemons says:

…at the highest levels of the national-security decisionmaking tree there is palpable doubt that bombing Iran achieves any fundamental strategic objectives while at the same time ultimately undermining U.S., Israel, and regional security, undermining the global economy. One senior official I heard when asked about bombing Iran then said, “OK, and then what? Then what?! Seriously, then what???”

He also notes, snarkily:

Wars cost lots and lots of money — and if a substantial chunk of the GOP crowd wants these wars and feels that it is in our national interest to have them, then by all means they should start lining up some of the wealthiest in the country who are helping to agitate for these conflicts to pay more in taxes for them.

> Speaking of which, how’s Israel handling the “the yearlong racket on their border“? They seem pretty sanguine about it, actually:

Aviv Kochavi, the director of Israeli military intelligence, predicts that internal instability will enfeeble neighbouring Arab states for several years to come. As for Iran, aside from its nuclear potential, it presents little challenge. The ruling elite is ideologically isolated and relies for strategic clout on an axis with Syria’s floundering regime. Many Sunni Arab countries are in fact more worried by the threat coming from the Persian Shias of Iran than by Israel…

> The White House has released the 2013 budget proposal. Most notably, it puts $500 billion in to public transportation projects over the next ten years. Also:

The president’s blueprint calls for reductions in spending on federal health programs and the military, a small raise for federal workers and more than $1.5 trillion in new taxes on corporations, hedge-fund managers and the wealthy, in part through the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts on annual incomes of more than $250,000.

Obama also has called for changes to the tax code that would require households earning more than $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes, but senior administration officials said Friday that the blueprint will provide no additional details on how such a levy would be structured.

The GOP is, quelle surprise, not terribly happy about it:

“This unserious budget is a recipe for debt, doubt, and decline,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an e-mail. “It would make our economy worse by imposing massive tax increases on small business and still pile up enormous debt that stirs greater economic uncertainty.”

Next month, House Republicans plan to offer a more austere fiscal blueprint that rejects tax increases, preferring to stabilize borrowing by making deep cuts to government services, including Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Like last year’s GOP budget, it will call for repealing Obama’s initiative to expand health coverage for the uninsured while ignoring calls for short-term economic stimulus.

> The Obama campaign is launching an initiative aimed at fighting what they see as misinformation during the election season:

“If the other guys are going to run a campaign based on misrepresenting the president’s record – and their own – we have two options: sit back and let these lies go unchallenged, or fight back with the truth,” deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in an email. ”We’re fighting back.”

> US biotech giant Monsanto has been found guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer.

> American university students are fighting against bottled water! Yay. Somewhat hilariously, the International Bottled Water Association (no, really, it’s a thing) is a bit unnerved by that, and has resorted to the age-old tactic of “so why don’t you focus on real problems?”

But the IBWA video suggests the cause is unworthy of students’ energy – instead, perhaps they could focus on genocide in Darfur. It claims bottled water is a good alternative to sugary beverages and easier to recycle than other packaged drinks. The IBWA also argues bottled water is safer than tap water.

The students – and a lot of water experts and authors – disagree with most of these points. They say the bottles add up to a lot of waste, and that the companies have privatized something that should essentially be free.

> Indian welder A. Muruganantham has developed an inexpensive machine that allows collectives of women in predominantly rural areas to produce and sell sanitary pads.

> The New Jersey Senate has voted 24-16 to legalize gay marriage in the state. Republican governor and vice presidential candidate hopeful Chris Christie has promised a veto. An override appears unlikely.

> Washington governor Chris Gregoire will sign a marriage equality bill into law today at 11:30 Pacific time (actually, it’ll probably have been signed by the time I post this).

“I knew now was the time to face it,” Gov. Gregoire said in an interview with The Advocate last month after throwing her political weight behind the bill. “And as I faced it, both as a mom and as a wife, and as a Catholic, as a governor, and wrote it down on a piece of paper, the logic of it all fell into the words that I put down there.”

The law, which would make Washington the seventh state plus the District of Columbia where marriage rights for same-sex couples are legal, will go into effect on June 7, the AP reports. Social conservative groups have vowed to collect the requisite signatures needed to put a referendum or an initiative on the November ballot.

Such a move would almost certainly be challenged in court if antigay advocates were successful, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling last week that California’s Proposition 8 violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it took away the right to marry for same-sex couples.

> Adele won a pile of hardware last night.

> I’m just going to…leave this here.

Written by whackanarwhal

February 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

newsmongering 02/11

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> As seems to be in vogue these days, Iran appears to be limiting its people’s access to popular sites such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo email, and Facebook. Kabir News speculates that the blocking will continue “until Esfand, the next month in the Persian calendar, and the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.” Alternately, it’s entirely possible that the Iranian government could be setting up something akin to a nation-wide intranet, a somewhat more permanent option whereby users are limited to seeing only what their government wants them to see; CNET reports that the Islamic Republic News Agency had suggested last fall that such a move could happen any day. (A comment on Reddit indicates that this happens every year around this time in Iran; in other words, it’s business as usual.)

Relatedly, the UK Minister of State for Business has indicated that website blocking for copyright enfringment is “imminent.” I’m sure that’ll go over well. It’s not like Britain has a habit of abruptly taking to the streets or anything.

Oh, wait…

> So, Syria! The situation continues to deteriorate. The civilian death toll is believed to have reached 5,400 since March, and the Economist notes that:

With up to several hundred projectiles raining into Homs every hour, the nationwide casualty toll has surged from around 20 a day to more than 50. Transport and telephone links, along with power, water and fuel supplies have been severed to many of the stricken areas, which were poor to begin with and have seen their incomes shrivel during the long months of unrest. With thousands of civilians choosing to abandon their homes despite cold winter weather, Syria is likely soon to confront a grave internal refugee crisis within its sealed borders. “We ask for nothing from the world, except for coffins, since there are not enough of them here for our bodies,” declares a sarcastic tweet from Homs.

In a nationwide address on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah implicitly called out China and Russia for vetoing a Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League peace plan for Syria. The King’s exact phrasing was “We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” and the New York Times interprets:

King Abdullah did not single out Russia and China by name, but he was clearly referring to both countries, which used their veto powers as permanent Security Council members to derail a resolution that supported the Arab League’s proposal to resolve the conflict in Syria. The resolution would have required, among other things, that Mr. Assad turn over some powers to a vice president.

Both Russia and China have been loyal supporters of Mr. Assad but they also value their relationships with many other countries in the Arab world, so the Saudi king’s remarks amounted to a further sign that those relationships have suffered some damage.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is accusing Western nations of arming Syrian rebels, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov quoted stating that “Western states inciting Syrian opposition to uncompromising actions, as well as those sending arms to them, giving them advice and direction, are participating in the process of fomenting the crisis.” Which is actually kind of funny, because according to CNN Money:

Russia has long been Syria’s primary military supplier and currently has about $4 billion worth of contracts for future arms deliveries to Damascus, according to a report from global analysis firm Oxford Analytica. Syria received 6% of total Russian arms exports in 2010, the report said, and is “critical for some [Russian] companies’ financial survival.”

“Overseas arms contracts are very important for the Russians,” said Rajan Menon, a professor at Lehigh University who studies Russian foreign relations. “There have been significant cuts in the size of the Russian military budget relative to the Soviet period, so if you want to keep people employed in the military-industrial complex, you need exports of armaments.”

Recent turmoil in the Middle East, however, has cut into this business.

With the loss of arms sales to Iran following U.N. sanctions and the cancellation of contracts in Libya after the Gadhafi regime’s overthrow, the list of Russian arms customers in the region is dwindling. The lost business with Iran was worth $13 billion, according to Treisman, while the Libyan deals totaled $4.5 billion.

> Rumors of Kim Jong-un’s death have been greatly exaggerated. No, really. Foreign Policy notes:

The chained Chinese media universe means that Weibo rumors are a lot more trusted than their Twitter counterparts. Chinese media coverage of sensitive subjects is often deliberately obfuscating, and Chinese viewers know it.

…Chinese official media reporting on North Korea is often further removed from reality than the way China reports on its own political process. (My favorite English-language example is a Xinhua article that compares nightlife in Pyongyang with New York and Tokyo.) Besides, North Korea itself is a black box: Even the best American articles often depend on rumors and hearsay to cobble together a portrait of the closed country.

All these factors combine to give the Sina Weibo rumor — started, it appears, by a random user with less than 200 followers — enough traction in China to land on this side of the world wide web and into the pages of Forbes, MSNBC, and Huffington Post.

It is possible that this Weibo user broke the story of a successful coup in North Korea, though it’s extremely unlikely. My favorite explanation on the Twitter side of things comes from Shaun Walker, the Moscow correspondent for the Independent, who wrote “Possible that someone said he ‘murdered an enormous family-sized bucket of fried chicken,’ and something got lost in translation

In fact, National News seems to think that the whole thing started when a Chinese Weibo user tweeted (weiboed?), regarding the sizeable crowd outside the North Korean embassy in Beijin in celebration of Kim Jung-il’s 70th birthday, “It’s the first time I’ve seen this situation, did something happen in Korea?

> Remember SOPA? Its slightly mutant European brother is being protested across the Continent.

ACTA is a global effort to protect intellectual property rights by banning counterfeit goods and online piracy. Critics say it would severely limit net freedom and could also have life-threatening consequences when it comes to pharmaceutical and agricultural patents.

While at least 30 governments initially signed the the agreement, some European countries are putting their decisions on hold. Most recently, Germany announced on Friday that it would delay signing the accord in order to “carry out further discussions.”

> Over at Slate, pandagon’s Amanda Marcotte thinks that the recent two-week contraception brouhaha was part of an elaborate plan engineered by the Obama administration to punk the GOP. She writes:

The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. …With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they’ve been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they’ll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

Salon advocates a variation of the view proposed by Marcotte:

When President Obama personally announced today that the foretold compromise on contraceptive coverage would involve insurers’ directly offering no-co-pay contraception to women whose employers object, he wasn’t trying to placate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who made it clear this week that they were uninterested in anything resembling compromise. He was talking to moderates who might be horrified to learn how far the USCCB wanted to take things.

…As long as the USCCB and Republican opportunists could intimate that Obama was forcing pious priests to offer birth control pills instead of communion, they had a shot at reframing this debate about religious liberty instead of equal access to healthcare for women. But once the bishops made it clear they would take their opposition to birth control to the bitter end — past not only employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, and to all American women interested in no-cost birth control — they lost.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, Rachel Maddow disagrees, fearing that the debate has been far more an engineering of the right than of the left:

The right has picked a fight on this issue because religiosity is a convenient partisan cudgel to use against Democrats in an election year. Despite that, some Democrats and even some liberals have embraced their logic. The thinking inside the Beltway seems to be that religious voters will turn against Democrats unless the White House drops the basic idea that insurance should cover contraception.

Al Jazeera seems to fall somewhat in between the two perspectives:

But Republicans risk alienating some moderate independent voters by hammering on such a divisive social issue at a time when polls show most Americans support birth-control coverage and the fragile economy tops the public’s agenda.

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the US, welcomed the move, saying she was “pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated”.

The controversy has pushed a sensitive social issue into the media spotlight ahead of November 6 presidential and congressional elections. Republicans hope to use it to galvanise their conservative base, but it is unclear whether it will resonate with the broader electorate.

> Meanwhile, an all-female panel during a discussion of the birth control controversy at CPAC suggested that the best way to defeat the Obama administration’s birth control mandate would be to call it an abortion mandate, despite the lack of, you know, abortion.

“I would encourage you not to let this become a debate over birth control,” Tobias said. “I truly believe the mandate from HHS was a deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to get a discussion in this country right before the election over whether men controlling the Catholic church can tell women whether or not to take birth control. That’s the debate they want. We need to bring it back. This is religious freedom. If they can tell the Catholic Church that they have to provide contraception to their employees, then they can also tell National Right to Life that we have to provide abortions for our employees.”

>Following up on my rantings regarding Mr. Santorum’s comments about the dangers of women in combat, I found this Foreign Policy article on the topic. It’s well worth a read, but I found the part below most interesting, particularly in light of Mr. Santorum’s suggestion that the primary risk women in such positions would face would be their male comrade’s overwhelming urge to protect them. In fact, the issue could be quite the opposite:

Unfortunately, no matter what a country’s policies on the roles women can play in the military, one constant from Canada to the United States, Australia to Sweden, is the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault at military facilities. While female soldiers around the world increasingly brave the same dangers as their male counterparts, they still face a unique set of risks from their own fellow soldiers.

In any case, where this issue is concerned, Mr. Santorum seems to be at odds with many members of this own party. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from March of last year indicates that 73% of respondents think women in combat would be pretty cool. Even among the respondents identifying themselves as “strongly conservative,” 53% were down.

In a snarky piece for Salon, Linda Hirshman notes:

On Thursday, the Pentagon released a report allowing a trickle more of estrogen into the front lines, with women now officially assigned, instead of informally attached, to battalions. But despite an explicit recommendation from a panel of neutral experts, still no ground fighting, no combat infantry, no special forces. In a press release, the women veterans’ Service Women’s Action Network “regretted” the failure to lift the “unfair” Combat Exclusion Policy, which precludes women from becoming infantry members.

> Austrian brothel owner Peter Laskaris, proprietor of Vienna’s Red Room Laufhaus, is offering a free room, hot shower, and hot meal to ten homeless people in the city as temperatures plunge to -20 (he has stated that “other services” are not included):

He added: “We are not really doing much business in the current cold weather anyway and it is the school holidays – a lot of people are off away with their families. Lots of our rooms are empty and it seemed a shame not to use them for a good cause.

“In these cold temperatures nobody should be left out on the streets.”

And he added that it had been so popular that he was now in talks with other brothels in Vienna to open their doors to the homeless. He said: “The homeless shelters are completely full. People need a warm place to stay. Giving away 10 rooms means that we only have five rooms remaining in our brothel and these are running as normal. None of my girls are complaining – they will have a lot of sympathy for the homeless.

> So a few days ago, I linked to an  NPR piece about Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk protest band. Now, in a slightly similar vein, meet Schmekel, a “bastardized combo of punk-rock, Klezmer (Jewish jazz), polka and comedy (Frank Zappa meets Henny Youngman) but much more profane.” As may or may not matter to you, all four guys in the band are trans. Also, they’re hilarious. (For one thing, “Schmekel” is Yiddish for “small penis.”)

If you are a man, then wanting me makes you a homo.

Some of us have boyish faces, tiny hands and noses

But we are men, not girls in drag or women with psychosis

And some of us have giant beards and killer abs and bear coats

So if you want to suck my dick, my `dick’ is not in scare quotes.

Written by whackanarwhal

February 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

newsmongering 02/10

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It’s been a hilarious news day. And by hilarious I mean that I’ve headdesked twice in the last four hours and shrieked incoherently once (in a “what is this insect and how did it get in my house” kind of way, not in an “I’ve always wanted a pony!” kind of way). On the plus side, the good folks at lifehacker believe that people are at their most creative when drunk and sleepy, which some of us could have told you ages ago. Either way, it doesn’t sound like a bad plan on a Friday night.

Particularly not after Rick Santorum, reliable fountain of all that is rational and forward-thinking, saw fit to mention that he feels that Pentagon opening up more roles to women in combat could be problematic because, and I quote, “other types of emotions that are involved” in ways that are “probably not in the best interest of men, women or the mission.” When the media got hold of this and interpreted his comments to mean that Santorum was calling women too emotional to serve their country, Santorum attempted to clarify his position by further sticking his foot in this mouth, commenting:

“I’ve never raised that as a concern. No, the issue is — and certainly one that has been talked about for a long, long time — is how men would react to seeing women in harm’s way, or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position, and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.”

Oh, so it’s not the womenfolk he’s worried about; it’s how the menfolk could possibly handle seeing competent, well-trained (and armed) women carrying out their duties in dangerous situations. In the comments on Facebook, Shane and I discussed the fact that despite the great  potential of America that every Republican candidate can’t seem to stop yammering about, they seem to have a very dim view of the average American’s abilities to handle anything that isn’t absolutely the status quo (I think Shane also linked to the lifehacker article above. Where would I be without you guys? A lot less informed, obviously. Probably happier, too).

Speaking of said American potential: I didn’t watch a lot of the Superbowl, but my parents did, and they were kind enough to yell at me to get my nose out of my book and then rewind when a particularly good ad happened. And I really, really liked the Clint Eastwood-narrated Chrysler ad. I have issues with nationalism and nostalgia, as I’ve talked about before, but I thought that it effective conveyed an uplifting message on a broad scale in a way that didn’t feel at all political.

Clint Eastwood is well-known for his conservative viewpoints, but the ad’s message is of hope (and Chevy); I read it as entirely non-partisan, or at least bipartisan: we’re working together to be strong. On the other hand, Karl Rove called it reminiscent of “Chicago-style politics,” which is either a reference to deep-dish pizza or cement shoes. I appreciate the the leftier edge of the country has long been characterized by an overuse of the word “hope” and its derivatives (ye gods, remember 2008?) and a willingness to link hands and sing “kumbyah” a lot, but since when is it a point of pride of value the opposite of that? – Which is to say, giving up?

An ad the polar opposite of the “It’s Halftime for America” ad is the “Debbie Spenditnow” ad. Pete Hoekstra, whom CNN describes as “a former Republican congressman in Michigan taking on Democrat and incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.” Hoekstra’s ad features a young woman of approximately Asian (presumably Chinese) descent ” speaking in broken English and thanking Stabenow for policies that put America in hock to our Chinese creditors and overlords: ‘Your economy get very weak,’ she says. ‘Ours get very good. We take your jobs! Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow!'”

Really, it’s the plinky music and menacing view of a rice paddy that makes it.

In the words of CNN’s Eric Liu:

Put aside the ham-handedness of the concept, which insults the heritage of some viewers and the intelligence of all. Put aside the fact that Hoekstra made not even a pretense of hiding his race-baiting and assumes Chinese Americans like me aren’t in the electorate. What’s truly galling to me — as an unhyphenated native-born American — is that this ad implies our country should take a quitter’s posture. It’s not halftime, says Hoekstra’s spot; it’s game over. China owns us, and now all that’s left is to assign blame in a bitter postgame spurt of sarcasm.

This loser of a message is a loser whatever party it comes from (and to be sure, there have been Democrats in recent elections who’ve wanted to play a China card against Republicans). What’s missing in Hoekstra’s attempt at a campaign message is any affirmative story of what we can be, where we are headed, how we will right our trajectory and remain the world’s indispensable nation.

That’s it. We’re done. Stick a fork in us, the great American empire has crumbled. They have taken your jobs. Next they will take your women. The narrative presented is that we are wobbling on the knife edge of decline and even the slightest possibility of disgruntling people (by having women flying helicopters in war zones, for instance) will send us sliding off the edge and into the scrap heap of history. At the same time, messages like Hoekstra’s remind us, Eeyore-style, that we’re already there. It’s The End.

I’m just saying, it’s an unhappy way of looking at the world and I don’t see how it gets us anywhere. But what do I know? I overuse the word “hope” and hum “kumbyah” occasionally.

That last part’s a lie.

In other things that will make you scream news, Ann Coulter spoke at CPAC. Yeah, I know, it’s Ann Coulter – talk about low-hanging fruit – but I just couldn’t help myself. Anyway, Coulter told her audience that all “real females are right-wingers” and then followed that statement with “a pretty girl is walking toward your table, you know she’s a fan.” And this is where it gets confusing if you think about it for more than two seconds, because if all “real females” (we’ll get to that one) are conservative, and all pretty girls are conservative, apparently all “real females” are pretty? Are women who aren’t conservative not “real females”? I’m not conservative. Do I  have a penis I never knew about? Give me a sec, I gotta get a mirror.

And I’m assuming it goes without saying that Coulter would never count transwomen as “real females,” so apparently transgender women are all liberal. Automatically. Regardless of any other indicators, she’s lacking two X chromosomes, so no little red elephant bumper stickers for her. Actually, if you take apart her statements, I think that if you’re a girl and not pretty (for whatever value of pretty), you’re apparently not a girl, either. (But beauty is socially-constructed, and male supermodel Andrej Pejic is mistaken for a beautiful woman pretty frequently. Does that mean Andrej Pejic is right-wing?).

I’m just throwing up my hands and assuming that when Coulter said “right-winger,” she meant “right-handed” via an elaborate bird metaphor. It makes as much sense as any of the other options.

Also, CPAC’s first day involve a panel titled “The Failure of Multiculturalism: how pursuit of diversity is weakening the American identity” (bringing to mind the question of what, precisely, the American identity is. A commercial I saw last night proclaimed that “America Runs on Dunkin,” which I suspect is really sort of unfortunately true). Anyway, said panelists include an individual by the name of Peter Brimelow, who runs a website called VDARE.com (VDARE is a shortening of “Virginia Dare,” believed to be the first non-Native American born on American soil. If you think about it too hard, Virginia Dare’s parents were immigrants – irregular ones, too, it’s not like they registered anywhere before getting off the boat. Also, Virginia Dare and the entire Roanoke colony mysteriously vanished shortly after it was established. Excuse the segue, but I just think it’s bit of a wacky legacy to be chasing after). The Southern Poverty Law Center calls VDARE a “White nationalist hate group” and notes:

“VDARE.com’s archives contain articles like ‘Freedom vs. Diversity,’ ‘Abolishing America,’ ‘Anarcho-Tyranny — Where Multiculturalism Leads’ and ‘Why Immigrants Kill,’” compiled quotes from other VDARE writers that call the U.S. an exclusively white nation and denounce Jews for “weakening America’s historic White majority.”

By “historic White majority,” I’m assuming they mean after the genocide that wiped out a bunch of the non-White people that were, you know, here first.

Anyway, CPAC sounds fun.

On a more cheerful if still frustrating note (because security, people, come on), Anonymous appears to have “hacked” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s email by guessing his password. It was 12345. Anonymous then also hacked 78 accounts attached to Assad’s staff; the password for 33 of those accounts was 12345 or 123456.

Fish in a barrel, kids. (She says, reloading.)

Speaking of idiots, there seems to be some controversy over birth control? Or something? I don’t know, I’ve been gone. But seriously, how is this controversial? Ninety-nine percent of women how have had sex have used birth control (besides natural family planning) at some point. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women who have had sex have used birth control (besides natural family planning) at some point. This stuff is stunningly widespread; it’s as common as the mold in your shower (less icky, though). So I keep seeing headlines about how there is “outcry” and “controversy” and I really don’t see where it’s coming from. Discussion of who has to pay for it? Personally, I don’t understand why employers wouldn’t want to pay for it. The Pill is incredibly cheap. Condoms are incredibly cheap. And given paying for maternity leave and then the risk of losing employees who decide to quit or drop to part-time versus the cost of a condom and the Pill for backup? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Anyway, so the Obama administration told insurance companies that all insurance companies had to cover birth control, whether religious institutions or not, and then Catholic leadership threw a fit, as wont to do. (Which is funny, because I imagine a lot of Catholic women would be in support of it, and you’d think all of those Catholic women in the Catholic leadership would have said somethi – Oh. Wait. My bad). Anyway, a compromise happened today (I saw it reported on Fox News – shut up, I was at the gym – as “ADMINISTRATION BACKS DOWN” but apparently it’s actually a pretty good deal). Religious employers who object to paying for birth control for their employees won’t have to pay for it, but insurance companies will still have to provide contraceptives free of charge. From the White House fact sheet:

The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and fully accomodates important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting non-profit religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception.

LifeSiteNews (guess their political affiliations, go on) reports that that Catholic and pro-life leaders have “slammed” the new plan, and apparently there’s a lot of irritation that employers still have to indirectly provide contraception despite not having to pay for it, but Planned Parenthood seems pretty happy about it, so I’m down. For funsies, Rick Santorum says that birth control is not something you need insurance to cover, because it’s so cheap. In actuality, according to Thinkprogress:

…oral contraceptives or “The Pill” range between $35 and $250 for the initial provider visit and the cost of a monthly supply of pills ranges between $15 and $50 a month, which amounts to between $180 and $600 a year depending on woman’s medical coverage. This means some women without insurance coverage for contraception may pay over $850 the first year of their prescription. Other forms of birth control are far more expensive. For instance, the cost for a monthly supply of birth control patches ranges from $15 to $80 dollars, or between $180 and $960 a year. Combined with the doctors visit, uninsured women could spend over $1,200 dollars in the first year.

But then Santorum has also stated that he’s opposed to birth control because “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” by which presumably he means that come on, pulling out totally works.

Speaking of which, what’s with this idea of what’s “natural” and what’s not? Cars aren’t natural – correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, they’ve never been sighted in the wild – and mine doesn’t actually run that well, but, you know, it’s kind of important in my life. So are things like albuterol, tequila, and shoes. Something not being natural doesn’t mean it’s bad. I don’t think Mr. Santorum’s hair color is natural, but you don’t see me calling for its imminent removal (toupees for everyone!).

Also, who gets to decide what is and isn’t natural? I found this gem the other day:

[Text reads: “I think the people hoping for a lesbian princess need to be reminded that Disney movies are aimed at kids. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being gay, but to push the idea at kids before they understand what that means will only confuse them. Also as a parent, I would be pissed at Disney for addressing such controversial topics in a movie intended for children.”]

Since when are children the best arbiters of what is or isn’t natural? Why are they going to instinctively understand heterosexual love but not homosexual (or any other variant)? Love isn’t controversial, generally. People’s responses to love are controversial.

Also, since when are kids the arbiters of what’s natural and what’s not? I pathologically distrust people who believe Big Bird is real; I don’t want them making decisions for me. Also, long division and toilets confused me when I was a kid. I got over it.

As allshallfade commented:

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay, but -” Nope. Stop right there. If you truly think there is nothing wrong with being gay, then that would be the end of it. You would not have this opinion. There is no ‘but’. Queer couples should have the same representation in children’s movies as heteronormative couples because – gasp! – there is nothing wrong with being gay!

You speak of ‘confusing’ the kids – tell me, though. How? How would this confuse them? When children watch Disney films, they are not thinking about sex. When they see Ariel and Eric kiss, or Aladdin and Jasmine, or Aurora and Phillip, or every goddamn couple in the entire franchise, they are not thinking about penises and vaginas, they are watching two people who love each other kiss. It’s simple and actually incredibly clear. There is nothing confusing about two people in love.

Which brings me full circle to some Prop 8 stuff. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the majority opinion on the Prop 8 ruling did a really interesting discussion of the word marriage and what it means for our society:

…‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.

…We do not celebrate when two people merge their bank accounts; we celebrate when a couple marries. The designation of ‘marriage’ is the status that we recognize. It is the principal manner in which the state attaches respect and dignity to the highest form of a committed relationship and to the individuals who have entered into it.

So there.

Written by whackanarwhal

February 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

newsmongering 02/09/12

with one comment

> Iraq has executed 65 prisoners in the first 40 days of 2012, putting it on track (if it continues in such a manner) to be right up there with China in executions per year. The state had outlawed capital punishment between 2003 and 2004, but with a rise in sectarian violence, the ban was put aside, apparently with gusto.

> North Korea’s famed Ryugyong Hotel – christened “the world’s ugliest building” by Esquire, who surely ought to know – is set to open this year, only twenty-three years behind schedule. It was originally planned to have 3,000 rooms, a bowling alley, nightclub, and five revolving restaurants; no word on how much of that has actually been accomplished. It will probably serve primarily tourists, which rather begs the question of who is expected to go to North Korea on vacation.

> Russia, as always, continues to be entertaining. Russian police are in the process of filing new tax evasion charges against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in their custody two years ago. Hist former employer, Hermitage Capitol, is believes this to be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history. From Foreign Policy:

Magnitsky’s original arrest on charges of tax evasion came shortly after he testified against two interior ministry officials, accusing them of embezzelement. See his business partner Jamison Firestone’s piece from last year for more background on the case. Hermitage CEO William Browder also wrote about Magnitsky shortly after his death in 2009.

Does anyone know of a precedent anywhere in the world for a posthumous prosecution? According to Hermitage, it’s never been done in Russia, even during the Soviet period. Even Adolph Hitler wasn’t posthumously prosecuted, though there was some discussion of the idea at Nuremburg. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed in 1661, three years after his death, but I can’t come up with any examples in modern times –particularly not for a crime like tax evasion.

The Russian justice system appears to have outdone itself.

In other news, an NPR report features a feminist punk group calling itself Pussy Riot as iconic of the new protest movement in Russia. Pussy Riot was arrested in mid-January after they performed an anti-Putin song (delicately titled “Putin Got Scared” – allegedly the lyrics are a bit ruder in Russian) in Moscow’s Red Square.

The collective is made up of about 10 performers, and about 15 people who handle the technical work of shooting and editing their videos. Members say all their decisions are collective and anonymous — Schumacher and her friend Kot won’t give their real names, and they insist on wearing their balaclavas during the interview.

They didn’t start as performers, says Kot, whose nickname means “Tomcat.” She says they were politically engaged women who figured punk protest music would energize people through their emotions.

Speaking of which, Foreign Policy believes Russia is facing its own “Russian Spring”:

The opposition may be multifaceted and poorly organized, but it has proved its ability to bring people to the streets and has united around a surprisingly cohesive agenda. The three mass demonstrations held on Dec. 10, Dec. 24, and Feb. 4 were the largest Russia has seen since 1991, and they broke the barrier of fear. The demonstrations were orderly, offering no excuse for violence by the police, who no longer seem capable of suppressing the opposition. As liberal opposition activist Andrei Piontkovsky writes, “Any resort to brute force to suppress demonstrations would finalize the regime’s loss of legitimacy.” In line with Russia’s post-Soviet history, the police would likely refuse to shoot unarmed demonstrators. So even if Putin aspires to be a stricter dictator, that option is probably closed.

> Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum – so often a voice of reason and civility in conservative politics – has recently compared the 9th circuit to the Soviet Union for being intolerant of the religious right and calling said religious right bigots when they were exercising their freedom to discriminate at will against people they found distasteful for loving the wrong people (this…apparently isn’t bigotry? Huh.). Speaking of slightly off-kilter historical references, Santorum would like you to know that Obama is on the path of decapitating religious people. Well, what he actually said was “When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. …What’s left in France became the guillotine,” which seems like a bit of leap from my perspective.

Actually, it’s like Mad Libs: “When you remove the pillar of _[noun]_, then what’s left is _[noun]_,” where you insert your own historical references that  are actually in no way related to the subject matter at hand. It’s like when you’re at a sporting event and the team you support wins and the guy next to you (also supporting the winning team) is like, “Dude! That was so Pearl Harbor!” and you’re like, “…I beg your pardon?”

Also, what’s with this misunderstanding of the word “tolerance”? You tolerate the tantrum being thrown by the toddler at the next table over. You tolerate your neighbor’s dog barking at four in the morning. You tolerate university wireless never actually working. So believe me, Mr. Santorum, we are tolerating you and your ilk. We’re not decapitating you any time soon (glitterbombing being of course something different altogether).

And actually, this whole thing is kind of hilarious in the light of Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast (02/02/12), where he said:

And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -– from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

…I’m sorry, Mr. Santorum, is that what you were referring to when you spoke of Mr. Obama’s “overt hostility toward faith”?

> Gay marriage has passed the Washington senate, with the governor expected to sign it into law next week. So that’s cool!

Washington has allowed domestic partnerships since 2007. On January 19, Microsoft and five other corporations based on Washington, (Vulcan, NIKE, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur) sent governor Chris Gregoire a letter noting their support for the marriage equality bills in the Washington legislature. Microsoft general counsel later posted a blog post (which is well worth reading, particularly so you can snorgle at the part where Smith says that “Inclusiveness is therefore a fundamental part of our values,” which is hilarious if you’ve ever tried to make a Microsoft product play nice with anything that’s not Microsoft) stating:

Despite progress made in recent years with domestic partnership rights, same-sex couples in Washington still hold a different status from their neighbors. Marriage equality in Washington would put employers here on an equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. This in turn will help us continue to compete for talent.

In case you’re still staggered by the concept that Bill Gates might have a soul, the New York Times reports that at a tech conference in Saudi Arabia, Gates told the audience that Saudi would not be a Top 10 country in the tech industry if they weren’t fully utilizing half the country’s talent (ie, women). When did Gates become not-evil? I’m so confused.

> For your daily dose of a) awesome, and b) not depressing (I try, guys, really I do), you can see President Obama at the White House Science Fair using an air cannon built by an eighth-grader to shoot a marshmallow across the room. The AFP has reported that the marshmallow “flew across the room before hitting the wall near the entrance to the Red Room, an elegant state parlor full of rare 19th-century French furniture.”

Written by whackanarwhal

February 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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So…I’ve been a little out of the loop lately. First I was in Morocco and then I was in Holland and then I was back in Morocco, and then Spain and then France, and then the Czech Republic, and then back to France, and then Holland again. And then the plan was for there to be a long string of uninterrupted Holland (and hopefully laundry. Please, laundry.), but then there was this visa…issue (to use a polite term) that could have resulted in a lifetime ban from most of Europe, so the long string of Amsterdam has been postponed until the fall and I’m home on leave of absence this semester. (As hilarious as a ban from a landmass would be…no. Thank you.)

In short, I’ve been a bit preoccupied, and really have no idea what’s going on in the world right now. I mean, we’re all still here, which is a good sign, but I’m kind of lost beyond that.

Donna: Who are they?
The Doctor: They were behind the battle of Canary Wharf. …Cyberman invasion? …Skies over London full of Daleks?
Donna: Oh, I was in Spain.
The Doctor: They [were] in Spain.
Donna: Scuba diving.

I have only a very vague idea of who the current Republican candidates are (in my defense, I’m not sure that most of the Republican candidates themselves know who the candidates are). I know there were European credit downgrades, but I don’t know what the media reaction was (a Czech banker told me that there was virtually no effect on the Italian markets, but that’s all I got). I saw Qaddafi’s death reported on Al Jazeera, but have little idea of what’s happening in Libya now. Also, a guy in Morocco told me that Obama is Jewish, but I’m pretty sure that one’s not true (FROM M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN).

Also, Prop 8 just happened (or rather, it was ruled that Prop 8 shouldn’t be happening any more). I’ve linked to some articles on Facebook – take a look. I’m hoping to have a better idea of what’s happening and what’s yet to come by tomorrow (although, as always, I make no promises). With luck, the narwhalwhacking you know and love will commence early this week.

Written by whackanarwhal

February 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

newsmongering 07/28

with one comment

>Stuart, my favorite Kiwi, linked to this Onion article on Facebook this morning (tomorrow night for him): “Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Nation Should Be Economically Ruined“.

“It is a question that, I think, is worthy of serious consideration: Should we take steps to avoid a crippling, decades-long depression that would lead to disastrous consequences on a worldwide scale? Or should we not do that?” asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), adding that arguments could be made for both sides…

Stuart’s comment was, “What an odd country you live in lol,” which is possibly the best description of the situation that I’ve seen so far.

> The Somalian al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab has arrested 30 women for not wearing the veil properly. This could be considered a rather moderate move; in 2009, the group arrested and whipped women for wearing bras, which are apparently forbidden on the grounds that they’re “deceptive”; if breasts looked “too firm,” women were “inspected” (read: strip searched) to see if the firmness was fake. If it was, residents were ordered to remove the bra and shake their breasts. Because of course bras could only be worn to deceive – not because they’re, you know, comfortable or anything. Under al Shabaab, anything un-Islamist is outlawed; previously, they has included mustaches, the World Cup, and dancing at weddings. Samosas have apparently been added to the list, as the savory pastry’s triangular shape has been deemed too closed to a Christian cross. Relatedly, the first wave of UN relief aid has arrived in Mogadishu – ten tonnes of it – with9,000 African Union troops defending the food and those trying to reach it from al Shabaab attacks. At least four people have been killed as thousands of refugees arrived in the city amidst heavy fighting. Somalian Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has stated that the delivered food will not enough and has accused the UN of deliberately withholding aid. The World Food Programme has denied these allegations.

> New estimates place the death total in Syria at 1,600, with an estimated 3,000 missing and 26,000 in detention. At least eleven people were killed in a town outside Damascus yesterday, and an estimated 300 were arrested. Activists estimate that one person is seized every hour by Syrian security forces.

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri has released a statement praising Syria’s protestors, portraying the uprising as an Islamist battle against American and Israeli interests. This rather makes him sound as delusional as Assad.

> BBC reporter Ahmad Omid Khpolwak was killed in an insurgence in Afghanistan that killed at least 16 other people.

> At least 35 people have been killed in a downpour and associated flooding in South Korea.

> It is steadily becoming more difficult to be a journalist in Turkey.

“Before they shot you; now they shut you down,” said Ramazan Pelegöz, Istanbul-based news coordinator of the Kurdish Dicle news agency.  He said reporters and photographers are often arrested covering protests and demonstrations in the Kurdish region; they are also denied access to government and security forces officials and information.

It’s ironic that as the AKP consolidates its grip on power it should risk tarnishing its image among the Western democracies that it wants to join by curbing press freedom. Erdogan is popular among many ordinary Turks who have seen living standards rise. His party took more than 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last month for a third term, capping a referendum victory six months earlier on constitutional reform. Turkey’s supporters in the EU hoped these popular endorsements would accelerate the accession process but just this month the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, called Turkey out on its media freedom record in a critical report.

“There is really an authoritarian, totalitarian government now in Turkey in terms of freedom of speech and human rights,” said communications professor Esra Arsan, of Istanbul Bilgi University. But people don’t seem bothered by this, she laments. “These are good economic times.”

> More than half a million Ivorian refugees have refused to return to Cote d’Ivoire, stating fear of ethnic reprisals. Post-election violence in the spring killed over 3,000 people and displaced nearly a million,

> In a statement to reporters, Norweigan Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed his nation’s commitment to “an open, democratic, inclusive society.” Norway has launched an inquiry to investigate (and presumably adjust) police actions immediately following the attacks. The EU has announced a war on extremism, which somehow sounds like a contradiction in terms, but some far-right politicians in Europe have praised the attacks, calling perpetrator Anders Breivik “an icon” and “in defense of Western civilization.”

I haven’t fully read it yet – out the door, sorry – but Salon’s Glenn Greenwald had a discussion of the Norweigan response to terror and how it’s not really anything like the American response to terror, and how possibly we should take a look at their approach, because it’s decidedly more sane.

The reaction to the heinous Oslo attack by Norway’s political class has been exactly the opposite: a steadfast refusal to succumb to hysteria and a security-über-alles mentality.  The day after the attack — one which, per capita, was as significant for Norway as 9/11 was for the U.S. — Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, when asked whether greater security measures were needed, sternly rejected that notion:  “I don’t think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.”  It is simply inconceivable that any significant U.S. politician — the day after an attack of that magnitude — would publicly reject calls for greater security measures.

> Tensions continue to rise in Kosovo; Serbian arsonists torched a border crossing last night, and a Kosovo police officer was shot and killed in an exchange of fire with Serbian civilians on Tuesday. Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognize.

> Following meetings in Washington, Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin referred to American senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) as “radicals” and “monsters of the Cold War” and warned that the US/Russian relationship would collapse if Republicans returned to power in the US.

“Today in the Senate, I met with Senators Jon Kyl and Mark Kirk. The meeting is very useful because it shows that the alternative to Barack Obama is a collapse of all the programs of cooperation with Russia,” he said. “Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights.”

Rogozin also warned that Russia cannot afford to deepen its ties with the United States given the GOP’s current position, because doing so would put its security at risk if the Republicans came back to power.


> A week ago, House Republicans advanced a bill that would slash foreign aid and payments to the UN. The bill would remove $6.4 billion from Obama’s $51 billion budget request for foreign policy, and:

The committee’s measure mandates that security assistance be provided to Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority only if the Obama adminstration certified that no members of terrorist organizations or their sympathizers were serving in their governments.

…Among other Republican priorities, the bill also would reinstate the “Mexico City” rule, which would eliminate federal funding for any non-governmental group that offered abortion counseling overseas.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted the bill’s “onerous restrictions”, argued that it “would be debilitating to my efforts to carry out a considered foreign policy and diplomacy, and to use foreign assistance strategically to that end,” and promised a veto should it clear the Senate.

> A Planned Parenthood outside Dallas was hit by a molotov cocktail last night. The incendiary device apparently bounced off the door and detonated harmlessly on the sidewalk.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: plenty – plenty – of pregnant women seeking prenatal care go to Planned Parenthoods. Attempting to damage those buildings threatens the life and health of pregnant women and their children who patronize those clinics.

> So in 2003, after Rick “Crazypants” Santorum compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, columnist Dan Savage googlebombed the man, effectively redefining the term “santorum” into something decided sexually explicit (google it on your own to see what it means now). Savage has now released a video promising that if Santorum continues to attack gays and lesbians in his 2012 election bid, Savage will expand the “google problem” to include “rick,” too.

> Should you believe that Facebook is the best medium in which to announce your pregnancy, you now have the ability to do so.

> Apparently Cowboys & Aliens isn’t terribly good? Quelle surprise! I’m crushed. And will probably see it anyway.

Written by whackanarwhal

July 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized