Wednesday, the day after….Morning reads.

Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey

Good morning everyone.

Horrible weather is making its way across the US, so first…before we get to any reads, make sure you keep an eye out for bad storms.

Intellicast – Current Radar in United States

Severe Weather Warnings Page

This image of a lighted tree in a pope mobile/sleigh is appropriate for the wet and cold days this holiday.

Let’s start this post with some thoughts on Newtown, CT., both of which are very emotional…for different reasons.

Mom of Sandy Hook Child Victim Shares Daughter’s ‘Message From Beyond the Grave’ in Incredibly Moving CNN Interview

Grace McDonnell was one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School this month. As her parents are grieving the loss of their bright-eyed, seven-year-old daughter, they can take at least some solace in a sign of comfort that she left behind.

Grace was known for leaving messages on the family’s bathroom window — notes and symbols that would show up once fog clouded the room from shower steam. And the day after her death, seemingly on cue, one of these notes appeared to her mother.

Grace McDonnell Leaves Sign for Her Mother Lynn on Bathroom Window | Sandy Hook

Grace McDonnell, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre (Photo Credit: CNN)

On the first day without her daughter, Lynn McDonnell said that the message on the window was a peace sign, Grace’s favorite symbol. Above it were the words, “Grace, Mom.” CNN was moved to call the family’s finding “a message from beyond the grave.”

“I looked and there was her peace sign in the window and I was like, ‘That’s a sign from my Grace,’” Lynn said. ”She was all about peace and gentleness and kindness.”

Heartbreaking. As many of us are thankful this holiday season is almost over, it makes me stop and think how lucky we are to even have a holiday filled with the usual stresses and family dinner get-together, whether they are enjoyable or not.

The other link I have for you is just more discussion on gun-control, in an op/ed from Michael Moore: 3 Reasons America Is Falling Apart — And How We Can Save Ourselves

After watching the deranged, delusional National Rifle Association press conference on Friday, it was clear that the Mayan prophecy had come true. Except the only world that was ending was the NRA’s. Their bullying power to set gun policy in this country is over. The nation is repulsed by the massacre in Connecticut, and the signs are everywhere: a basketball coach at a post-game press conferencethe Republican Joe Scarborougha pawn shop owner in Floridaa gun buy-back program in New Jerseya singing contest show on TV, and  the conservative gun-owning judge who sentenced Jared Loughner.

So here’s my little bit of holiday cheer for you:

These gun massacres aren’t going to end any time soon.

That is just the first few lines of the op/ed, please take a look. I don’t usually post links to the rants of Michael Moore…but he sure as hell got the Columbine story the attention it deserved…along with other gun related shootings and killings in his film, Bowling for Columbine. Anyway, take a few minutes to read his opinion.

This next story is fascinating from an environmental stand-point.  After you read it, just think of the disaster in the making:  Proposed Coles Hill uranium mine: Buried treasure or hidden threat?

Beneath an estate that’s been farmed by the Coles family since just after the Revolutionary War lies the nation’s largest untapped uranium deposit, a potential $10 billion bonanza amid rolling hills, oak trees, pastures and a historic plantation home.

The radioactive treasure in the Blue Ridge foothills is pitting neighbor against neighbor and North Carolinians against Virginians. North Carolina is only about 20 miles from the proposed uranium mine and residents, public officials and lawmakers there worry that a catastrophic release of radioactive waste could poison Kerr Lake, the drinking water source for more than 118,000 North Carolinians, as well as contaminate the fishing- and recreation-rich Roanoke River as far east as Pamlico Sound.

With the recent ProPublica report on the contamination of water aquifers by the US government, this “mother-lode” of radioactive uranium seems like a mining operation that is just asking for trouble.

From the Guardian, this question is one we all should be asking…from Carl Bernstein:     Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency

CEO Rupert Murdoch

The Ailes/Petraeus tape made clear to many that Murdoch’s goals in America have always been nefarious. Photograph: Reuters

So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch‘s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

And like the rest of the articles I have for you this morning, it is just a few first lines, read the rest at the link.

That is all I have for you this morning, how was your holiday and what have you been ready lately?


Wednesday Reads: Old Negatives, Ancient Water and Debtors’ Prisons

Good Morning!

Can you spot a trend in the title of this morning’s post?

Today I will bring you links that are about old things, or about how we as a nation are going backwards in time…either way, I hope you find them interesting, so…here we go.

I will start with that whole ass-backward direction we are heading here in the USA.

Of course, we need to look no further than Florida. Governor Rick Scott Vetoes Funds For Rape Crisis Centers During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Awww, what a guy!

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) shocked the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence this week when he vetoed $1.5 million in funding for 30 rape crisis centers in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. State lawmakers allotted the money to offset an increase in need and a lack of sufficient funding for victim services.

A spokesperson for Scott said he vetoed that particular line item in the state budget because the state already funds sexual violence programs, and nobody was able to make it clear to him why rape crisis centers needed the new funding.

What an ass, my guess is that he just wasn’t listening attentively.

“Governor Scott approved funding for many projects that have statewide impact and do not duplicate programs already funded by the state,” Lane Wright, Scott’s press secretary, told HuffPost. “This new funding of $1.5 million would have been duplicative, since, as a state, we already fund sexual violence programs. There was no information suggesting any needs in this area weren’t already being met. The state already provides about $6.5 million for rape prevention and sexual assault services. That is in addition to the funds available for domestic violence programs — $29 million to be specific. Many victims of sexual violence seek refuge at domestic violence shelters.”

Jennifer Dritt, the executive director of the Florida Council, said she was “stunned” and “confused” by Scott’s move and that she questions his reasoning for slashing the funds.

“We say ‘here’s the need, here’s the need, here’s the need,’ and frankly, nobody’s paying any attention,” she told HuffPost. “We gave them information about the number of new survivors we have and we showed them that these rape crisis centers have waiting lists. Survivors are having to wait weeks, sometimes six weeks, in some programs three months to be seen. We included quotes from the programs about the waiting lists and what services they weren’t able to offer because of a lack of money. There is clearly an unmet need.”

As for the $6.5 million that Scott said the government provides for rape prevention and sexual assault services, a large percentage of that money is distributed to education programs, not actual crisis centers serving the victims.

No, I am wrong about that not listening thing…Voldermort Rick Scott is really just an asshole!

From a political standpoint, Scott’s cuts to sexual violence funding could not have come at a worse time, as Republicans in Congress are taking heat for opposing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. But Scott’s spokesman said the governor’s decision had nothing to do with the oft-cited GOP “war on women.”

“Anyone who’s trying to say this veto is evidence of a war on women, is deliberately trying to mislead the public for political ends,” Wright said.

I call that last line BS.

Oh wait, this was supposed to be about moving backwards, that link up top is about the continuing GOP’s War on Women. I mean, the discrimination against women is certainly moving us backwards, but this next link is more literal in terms of moving back in time.  Jailed for $280: The Return of Debtors’ Prisons

How did breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay end up behind bars? She didn’t pay a medical bill — one the Herrin, Ill., teaching assistant was told she didn’t owe. “She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn’t have to pay it,” The Associated Press reports. “But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs.”

Although the U.S. abolished debtors’ prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to haul people in who don’t pay all manner of debts, from bills for health care services to credit card and auto loans. In parts of Illinois, debt collectors commonly use publicly funded courts, sheriff’s deputies, and country jails to pressure people who owe even small amounts to pay up, according to the AP.

How is this happening?

Under the law, debtors aren’t arrested for nonpayment, but rather for failing to respond to court hearings, pay legal fines, or otherwise showing “contempt of court” in connection with a creditor lawsuit. That loophole has lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives concerned enough to pass a bill in March that would make it illegal to send residents of the state to jail if they can’t pay a debt. The measure awaits action in the senate.

And you know who has been working overtime on getting laws passed in the creditors favor…

“Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation. “Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.”

Well, Illinois isn’t the only state that will lock you up for unpaid debt.

A 2010 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that focused on only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington — found that people were being jailed at “increasingly alarming rates” over legal debts. Cases ranged from a woman who was arrested four separate times for failing to pay $251 in fines and court costs related to a fourth-degree misdemeanor conviction, to a mentally ill juvenile jailed by a judge over a previous conviction for stealing school supplies.

According to the ACLU: “The sad truth is that debtors’ prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts.”

Ugh, I can’t quote anymore, you can go to the link and read the rest of the story…it is just making me so mad.

 

Here is another article discussing our country’s move backward, this time to appease the right-wing christian establishment.5 Supreme Court Decisions Pandering to Christianity

In theory, the Supreme Court is where Americans turn to protect their rights when all else fails. The high court is supposed to be beyond the reach of politics, and more importantly, beyond the reach of popular will. After all, just because many Americans want something doesn’t mean it’s constitutional.

This is true especially in matters of religion. Despite what many Americans believe, the majority does not rule when it comes to religion. Core freedoms depend on no vote. Most people in your town may sincerely believe that compelling students to say Christian prayers or learn creationism in public schools is a desirable – but that doesn’t make it legal.

In the main, the Supreme Court has done a pretty good job of upholding the separation of church and state. The high court has put the brakes on mandatory religious worship in public schools and barred direct tax support of sectarian enterprises.

But the court has made a few missteps along the way. That’s inevitable because as much as we’d like to think that the court is not a political institution, presidents do use the power of appointment to shape the bench, beyond their own terms in office.

Here are five cases where the Supreme Court dropped the ball on separation of church and state.

Go to the link to read about the five cases.

And now a story about an ancient rock falling to earth:

Minivan-sized Asteroid Exploded Over California

The source of loud “booms” accompanied by a bright object traveling through the skies of Nevada and California on Sunday morning has been confirmed: It was a meteor. A big one.

It is thought to have been a small asteroid that slammed into the atmosphere at a speed of 15 kilometers per second (33,500 mph), turning into a fireball, and delivering an energy of 3.8 kilotons of TNT as it broke up over California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, classified it as a “big event.”

Wow, it actually broke the sound barrier as it fell through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“I am not saying there was a 3.8 kiloton explosion on the ground in California,” Cooke told Spaceweather.com. “I am saying that the meteor possessed this amount of energy before it broke apart in the atmosphere. (The map) shows the location of the atmospheric breakup, not impact with the ground.”

Cooke went on to say that the meteor likely penetrated very deep into the atmosphere, producing the powerful sonic booms that rattled homes across the region. According to Reuters, car alarms in Carson City, Nev., were even triggered.

In other “science” news, scientist have found large sources of water in Africa:  Map Shows Huge Water Source Available Underground in Africa

Helen Bonsor, a hydrologist for the British Geological Survey, said her research shows that groundwater – underground water sources – is available across the continent in huge quantities: “over 100 times the annual renewable freshwater resource available in Africa, and 20 times that stored in Africa’s freshwater lakes.”

Bonsor led a team from the BGS and the University College London in crafting a comprehensive map of the groundwater sources across Africa, complete with details about exactly how much water can be found.

Africa ground water map

[…]

Her team took data from small-scale local studies and compiled them on a continent-wide scale to produce the map. So now, instead of generalities, Bonsor said, “we’re talking about, well in this area, with careful exploration and siting of boreholes, you are likely to get a yield of one to five liters per second.”

Because that quantitative data had been missing, Bonsor said, groundwater had “often been left out of discussions on water scarcity and water security.”

She hopes her new map will help change that, and prompt governments to focus on developing groundwater sources.

Which brings me to this Falco cartoon…

This next item is from The New York Times Lens: Pablo Delano Unravels a Mystery in Barcelona

For the past dozen years, Pablo Delano has been consumed by the mystery of a Barcelona Biscuit Tin: who shot the hundreds of decaying negatives that were packed into the beat-up box he bought for $60 at a Barcelona flea market? Who were the people in the pictures? Where were the photos taken?

Granted, the images he discovered were not on the same level of, say, those by Robert Capa in the famed Mexican Suitcase. But the Barcelona Biscuit Tin had its own mysterious charms — weather-beaten, moldy and fuzzy images of Barcelona between the world wars. Children on bikes and in trees. Cars rambling through the streets. Bullfighters in the ring. Factory workers making huge tubes.

“He seemed to be obsessed with photographing everything in his life,” said Mr. Delano, who teaches photography at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. “At the same time, he was technically quite inept. The percentage of pictures that are underexposed, overexposed or blurry is quite high. Despite the fact he had real technical problems, he kept doing it.”

There are some interesting photographs, be sure to take a look at them. And…be sure to read the rest of the story, about the “biscuit tin of memories.”

Now, one last link… White killer whale adult spotted for first time in wild This is fantastic, off the shores of Russia…

White orca
“Iceberg” is believed to be the first mature white orca observed
Scientists have made what they believe to be the first sighting of an adult white orca, or killer whale.

The adult male, which they have nicknamed Iceberg, was spotted off the coast of Kamchatka in eastern Russia.

[…]

“It has the full two-metre-high dorsal fin of a mature male, which means it’s at least 16 years old – in fact the fin is somewhat ragged, so it might be a bit older.”

Orcas mature around the age of 15, and males can live to 50 or 60 years old, though 30 is more commonplace.

“Iceberg seems to be fully socialised; we know that these fish-eating orcas stay with their mothers for life, and as far as we can see he’s right behind his mother with presumably his brothers next to him,” said Dr Hoyt

There is some video at the link. Magnificent, innit?

What a world…it could be so wonderful if it wasn’t for certain people

So, what are you reading about today?


There Will Be Blood

If you listen to the GOP, you’d be convinced that the WH, Democrats in general and crazed environmentalists specifically had nixed the Keystone Pipeline out of sheer orneriness or a deep-seated hatred of good ‘ole American Capitalism.  Rick Santorum and his Prince of Darkness tour would no doubt smell brimstone in the midst of any pipeline dissent.

Well, surprise, surprise.  The push back is not limited to protestors in the United States.  Our northern neighbors in Canada have as many if not more objections to the Petro State ripping through their country, poisoning watersheds, destroying wildlife and property, causing disease and health problems among citizens, all in the name of King Oil and the desire to wring every last drop out of the planet.

The Hell with Consequences!

First Nation, the indigenous population of Canada, has already predicted:

There will be blood!

Why the outcry?  Enbridge, Inc. and the conservative government in Canada is pressing forward with their own pipeline project, Northern Gateway, which would carry 500,000+ barrels a day 731 miles from a town near Edmonton, westward through the Rocky Mountains to a port on the British Columbia [BC] coast.  Over 60 indigenous organizations have expressed their opposition, refusing to be moved by the promise of revenue, jobs and an increase in their quality of life because their lives are deeply attached to the natural resources of BC, most importantly the integrity of the salmon trade that depends on the streams and tributaries of the Fraser and Skeena Rivers.   In addition, the proposed port on the coast, which would host over 200 oil tankers a year, could expose the Great Bear rainforest to irreparable damage.

Think Valdez!

Interestingly enough, First Nation opposition is the most serious threat to the Harper government’s enthusiastic endorsement of the pipeline.  Unlike other indigenous groups, First Nation never signed treaties with the Canadian government and consequently never relinquished their lands to the Federal government.  On the other hand, the government and oil companies have nearly unlimited funds to fight this battle in court.

According to the LA Times report Tribal Chief Jackie Thomas has said:

“It’s going to be a war. The only question is, who’s going to draw the first blood.”

And here’s a chilling factoid: Enbridge is the same company responsible for the leak of 800,000+ gallons [the EPA now reports over 1 million gallons] of tar sand oil into the Kalamazoo River, Michigan.  Presumably, the oil company has spent $700 million in reclamation procedures.  The area is still a gigantic mess.

Kalamazoo River Spill

Added to the environmental risks [the cost of which is usually ignored] the Northern Pipeline is likely to boost the price of oil for Canadian consumers because like the Keystone proposal, the oil would be exported, not available domestically. The video below is instructive in a grim way.

Why are we having these bitter disputes?

Because we desperately need new energy sources. And there’s tons of money on the line.  More importantly, we need an Energy Policy/Strategy, where the pros and cons of transitional sources are seriously considered–the trade-offs, the costs, what we as a culture are willing to put up with or risk until renewable, clean sources are developed and brought online.  That’s a plan that would look at what we need today, five years down the road, 10, 20, 30 years.  You set benchmarks.  You invest in, encourage and unleash innovation, while focusing on increased efficiency from power plants–the traditional US coal power plant is only 35% efficient, meaning we’re wasting most of the energy we’re producing–to autos to buildings to everything else.

Where is that policy?  Nada.

The Department of Defense’s push towards alternative energy is not a sign of the US military becoming rabid tree huggers.  As the world’s largest institutional energy consumer, the DOD knows the score: the days of cheap fossil fuel are over and our dependence on foreign and unfriendly suppliers is a serious security issue.  The Department’s commitment to this reality can be seen in proposed budget expenditures: $3 billion by 2015; $10 billion by 2030.

As GreenTech Media reported, this sort of shift has historical parallels:

Military spending in support of energy is not new. Winston Churchill’s decision in 1911 to move the British Navy, then the world’s then most dominant military force, from coal to oil changed the world’s energy marketplace. The emerging trend in DoD spending on renewables is an equally historic marker.

Neither American or Canadian energy needs should come down to an either/or contest: shut off the electricity or rip the environment apart, robbing people, wildlife, the very planet of their health, sustainability and future.  We cannot poison our watersheds, jeopardize our aquifers or damage fertile farmlands for the sake of profits or our unwillingness to conserve and efficiently utilize what we have.  King Oil has ruled long enough. The damage they’re willing to exact is unacceptable, even obscene.

Alberta Tar Oil Sands, Aerial Satellite Shot

First Nation peoples of British Columbia know this and are willing to fight tooth and nail to preserve what’s left of their way of life and cultural traditions. To save the irreplaceable.

Great Bear Rainforest

There may very well be blood.  It’s a worthy fight.


Zombies and Vultures and Pipelines, Oh My

The zombies seem to be winning the war against the living.  We have zombie banks, zombie politicians [think Rick Perry], zombie policy—free market fundamentalism preached as an untried economic theory.

And now zombie pipelines.

Just when you thought the Keystone XL controversy had been put to rest [at least temporarily], its zombie presence lunges forward, reanimated for all to see.  Although I suspect supporters of this very bad idea are hoping the American public is not watching or if they are watching they will buy the swill on the non-existent benefits of a 1700-mile tar sands pipeline.

What am I talking about?

I found a disturbing inquiry [hattip to OEN] by Representative Henry Waxman to a Deborah Hohlt, who received $50,500 from the Great State of Indiana [that would be paid in state taxpayer monies] to lobby in DC on behalf of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.  Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels provided the rebuttal to the President’s SOTU address, in which he referred to the Administration’s decision to ‘postpone’ the pipeline’s construction as an ‘extremist’ policy.

As you might remember the Republican chorus on this subject has been jobs, jobs, jobs.  House Speaker Boehner has quoted 100,000 jobs at stake.  TransCanada has been all over the map with job estimates, the last, most creative quote coming in at 250,000 jobs.  Unfortunately, the numbers are at odds with the single independent analysis from Cornell Global Labor Institute, estimating the number at between 4000-6000 temporary jobs.  The steel for the pipeline?  Would be coming from India.  The cry that the pipeline would reduce our reliance on foreign oil?  The refined tar sands oil is contracted for export [80%] to South America and Europe.

The upsides are slim to none, considering the toxic, corrosive nature of tar sand oil, the sludge-like quality that requires pressure and heat to make a pipeline flow possible.  That also increases the risk of a leak and an environmental disaster.  Anyone who may question the heightened risk should check out the total mess in Michigan when over 800,000 gallons of tar sand oil spilled and contaminated 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River and surrounding properties.

And the reclamation?  These corporations should hang their heads in utter shame. If you want to be thoroughly disgusted check out the You Tube clip I provided in an earlier post.

But here’s the really curious thing.  The pipeline won’t be running through Indiana.  The pipeline will not be running close to Indiana’s borders. No Indiana facilitities will have access to the pipeline. In fact, it appears that Indiana does not stand to be impacted in anyway by the Keystone pipeline and yet Governor Daniels felt compelled to call President Obama an extremist for postponing the pipeline’s construction.  He was also willing to pay a $50,000+ [in state taxpayer money] to lobby for the Great State of Indiana in defense of the pipeline.

More curious still?  TransCanada has stated that the pipeline will ‘increase’ oil prices for Indiana and other Midwestern residents because the area is ‘oversupplied.’  Keystone’s successful construction [this is stated in TransCanada’s application] will ensure higher prices for Canadian crude.  By independent analysis costs will increase $6.55 per barrel in the Midwest and $3 per barrel everywhere else.   The Indiana Petroleum Council thinks this is a swell idea.

Which begs the question: Who does Governor Daniels work for?  His constituents or the oil companies?

So, it should not be any great surprise that a Senate group–laughably-called bi-partisan because it includes 1 Democrat, Joe Manchin from W. Va.–is reintroducing the Keystone proposal, pushing for immediate construction with or without the Administration’s approval.  The Senate committee is invoking the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which says Congress should have the power:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.

I love it when the Republicans start waving the Constitution. It’s a clear signal they’re up to no good. Did I mention that Koch Industries stands to make a killing on this project?

While reading Representative Waxman’s letter, I recalled something I’d read in Greg Palast’s book Vultures’ Picnic and found an accompanying and equally disturbing text online here and here.  To quote Palast:

Reserves are the measure of oil recoverable at a certain price. Raise the price, raise the reserve. Cut the price and the amount of oil in the ground drops. In other words, it’s a fool’s errand to measure the “amount of oil we have left.” It depends on the price.

Specifically, oil companies and oil-related financiers are not interested in expanding oil supplies to the world, particularly cheap oil supplies [because the days of cheap oil are over]. They’re interested in feeding the hunger for oil and controlling the price around the world with an iron fist.  The higher, the better.  The environment—air, water, soil–is not the concern.  Our health or that of our children is not the concern.  The bottom line—profit and power—is all that matters.  If nations collapse?  The Vultures are waiting to feast on the bones.

Sound harsh?  It shouldn’t.  Zombies and vultures are kissing cousins.  They’re coming ‘round for a friendly visit.  Again.


Sunday Reads: 2012 is finally here!

Good Sunday Morning!

Oh wow, I am so freaking happy that 2011 is over! These last two weeks have been long and agonizing, since both kids have been home from school…but they go back tomorrow! Yeah!

Here’s to a better year, with some improvement all around…cause another year like last year and I will welcome the Mayan Doomsday.

As we enter the new year, the most important question on people’s mind is whether or not the world will officially end as we know it by next December. But let’s face it, if 2012 is really going to bring about end times (because we should clearly be basing our plans for the end on the Mayan calendar), it’s going to have a tough act to follow. Many people are writing up 2011 as the year of this or the year of that, but let’s keep things in perspective here: 2011 was the year that the world descended into random chaos.

Look, 2012, I know you think you’re so important because the Mayans said everything ends with you. But short of sharks rising from the seas, the sun mysteriously vanishing, or some other supernatural event taking place, you’re really not going to come close to just how insanely screwed up this year was.

No kidding! Follow that link for a summary of the kind of news stories and reports from 2011. If this year starts out like last year, with a huge number of birds falling dead out of the sky, then start to prepare yourself for the final outcome. It is already starting with a rumble…from Japan to Ohio.

 Magnitude 7.0 quake his Japan, no tsunami warning.

Officials: 4.0 magnitude quake in northeast Ohio related to wastewater injection well connected with the practice of Fracking.

I have lots of links for you today, I figured that everyone will wake up late and be in a lazy mood. So if this post is a bit much, just come back and finish it later.

Hopefully, those who partied hard last night…are recovering from their New Years hangovers. If you ever wondered why alcohol makes your head spin, take a look at this video.

There has been a rash of fires in Hollywood, hmmm…is this a protest against the crappy movies that Hollywood has put out this year?  (I don’t understand why Twilight isn’t on that list…but it made this list of 10 worst films of 2011.) Anyway, I guess everyone can be a critic…Luckily no one has been hurt, but the number of arson fires is up over 30 now. LA firefighters on New Year’s alert amid arson attacks.

At least 11 vehicles were burned on Saturday in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles, police said. The city fire department reported vehicle or structure fires at other locations.

The early Saturday fires followed on 21 intentionally set fires involving vehicles or car ports in the Hollywood area late on Thursday and early Friday morning, according to the fire department.

Since I’ve touch on some end of year list articles, let’s stick with that for a bit.

We had the worst movies of 2011, here are the 10 Pop Monstrosities That Almost Destroyed Our Culture in 2011

Every year, things go down in pop culture that seem to signal the coming armageddon — like offensive and popular reality shows, for instance — and we wonder, could it possibly get worse? And every year, it does. We could list 2011 terrible things in American culture this year and not even come close to completing the list, so for brevity’s sake, here are the top 10 worst things that happened in pop culture this year. May 2012 have fewer of them.

For a more detailed look at the Top MuckReads of 2011: Domestic Surveillance, Shell Companies and College Sports Corruption.  This link takes you to a ProPublica article.

Here are some of this year’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism.

This past week I had a link up for Jezebel’s Woman of the Year, strange but I can’t find the results, maybe they are forthcoming. But while looking for who made Woman of the year, I found this link: Was 2011 A Joke?

Was 2011 a joke? Was everything that happened a complete and utter farce? All signs point to yes.

Our planet was a mess. The tsunami in Japan; the floods in the Philippines, the earthquake on the east coast; a deadly tornado in Missouri; wildfires in Arizona, Hurricane Irene; and meanwhile, the global population reached 7 BILLION. In the words of Seth and Amy: Really?!?

Instead of being completely apathetic or lazily complaining, people unhappy with corporate greed, the flailing economy and the 1% and huge bonuses going to Wall Street bandits took to the streets as part of the Occupy movement. And what happened when these citizens exercised their democratic right to protest? They got arrested or pepper sprayed in the face. What a joke. A joke that became a meme.

The Sandusky debacle lead to a lawsuit filed by a an alleged victim who claimed that the former Penn State football coach sexually abused the victim on more than 100 occasions — and has been abusing boys for more than 30 years. And no one said anything until now? You have to be kidding.

Wait, the State of Georgia killed Troy Davis, are you kidding? For real?

And yet: Zygotes are people, so you can’t kill them. Ba-dum-bum.

Charlie Sheen, who has a history of violence toward women, announced he had tiger blood and waved a machete and claimed to be “winning” and people cheered. That had to be a joke.

Ashton Kutcher simultaneously became the highest-paid TV star and pulled the ultimate prank when he told Demi Moore he’d be faithful. We all got punk’d.

And who could forget this one:

Oh, and Hilary Clinton was Photoshopped out of a Situation Room photo, are you fucking serious?

Meanwhile, Ann Coulter was talking about how her blacks are better than your blacks. Comic!

At the box office, Breaking Dawn blew right through the $500 million mark. Half a billion dollars, for a movie in which a vampire procreates and bites the demonic parasitic fetus out of his skeletal bride’s belly and then a man who can turn into a wolf falls in love with said newborn infant. Ludicrous.

You guys. Snooki wrote a book. A book that became a bestseller.

Go ahead and read the rest, if you want…

However if you want to read something a bit more scientific: Scientists List Their Favorite Discoveries of 2011

Wait, there is more, here at this link about my favorite cosmologist: Scientist who rewrote the laws of survival

He is, perhaps, the world’s most unlikely superstar. Despite a lifetime of fighting disease and defying medical predictions, Professor Stephen Hawking has become the planet’s most celebrated cosmologist.

Divorced twice, with three children and a jet-set lifestyle transcending the confines of academia, he turns 70 next week.

A rare insight into the man will be given this week by his children and some of his closest friends when they pay tribute to him on Radio 4.

Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 21, he was warned he might not live to see his 22nd birthday. Yet he has spent decades working on groundbreaking theories and the nature of the universe.

Hawking has turned his disability into a trademark and has become a cultural icon, with appearances on many TV series. His appeal extends to lads’ mags: Nuts voted him British Bloke of the Year in 2011 – beating Daniel Craig and David Beckham.

Cool huh, that is an interesting article about Hawking, give it a read through.

This next link isn’t about planets and the existence of God, but about climate change and how Human Pollution May Cause Tornadoes.

A new study has found that tornadoes seem to have an overwhelming preference toward forming in the middle of the week. This isn’t necessarily because the hyper-destructive funnel clouds are dedicated workers that live for the weekend, but rather because of the pollution created by humans commuting to work. Just another example of human beings sewing the seeds to their own destruction.

Looking at data set running from 1995 to 2009 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), study authors Daniel Rosenfeld from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Thomas L. Bell at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center found something odd. They found that tornadoes and hail storms were 20% more likely to form in the middle of the week. With results that slanted, it seemed clear that there is a preference toward storm formation during that time period.

Rosenfeld and Bell believe that this increase in storms is caused by a similar increase in aerosol pollutants that generally peak mid-week due to workers commuting to their job. Correlation is, obviously, not causation. However, the team has a pretty solid explanation as to what they think is happening.

Give the link a click to read more.

In other news, the Organic movement is fading…Questions About Organic Produce and Sustainability

Del Cabo Cooperative, a supplier here for Trader Joe’s and Fairway, is sending more than seven and a half tons of tomatoes and basil every day to the United States by truck and plane to sate the American demand for organic produce year-round.

But even as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming.

From now until spring, farms from Mexico to Chile to Argentina that grow organic food for the United States market are enjoying their busiest season.

“People are now buying from a global commodity market, and they have to be skeptical even when the label says ‘organic’ — that doesn’t tell people all they need to know,” said Frederick L. Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. He said some large farms that have qualified as organic employed environmentally damaging practices, like planting only one crop, which is bad for soil health, or overtaxing local freshwater supplies.

The article points out that this organic agriculture has brought jobs to areas that desperately need them, however:

To carry the Agriculture Department’s organic label on their produce, farms in the United States and abroad must comply with a long list of standards that prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers, hormones and pesticides, for example. But the checklist makes few specific demands for what would broadly be called environmental sustainability, even though the 1990 law that created the standards was intended to promote ecological balance and biodiversity as well as soil and water health.

Experts agree that in general organic farms tend to be less damaging to the environment than conventional farms. In the past, however, “organic agriculture used to be sustainable agriculture, but now that is not always the case,” said Michael Bomford, a scientist at Kentucky State University who specializes in sustainable agriculture. He added that intense organic agriculture had also put stress on aquifers in California.

[…]

While the original organic ideal was to eat only local, seasonal produce, shoppers who buy their organics at supermarkets, from Whole Foods to Walmart, expect to find tomatoes in December and are very sensitive to price. Both factors stoke the demand for imports. Few areas in the United States can farm organic produce in the winter without resorting to energy-guzzling hothouses. In addition, American labor costs are high. Day laborers who come to pick tomatoes in this part of Baja make about $10 a day, nearly twice the local minimum wage. Tomato pickers in Florida may earn $80 a day in high season.

With so many states adopting these ridiculous Immigration laws, there is likely to be many more laborers looking for work in these organic farms…I wonder what that will do to the amount of money a laborer makes in Baja…compared to what they used to make in Georgia and Alabama…it makes you think just how many people are affected by some of these draconian immigration laws passed last year.  You can read more about the sustainability of the Organic Agriculture movement at the link up top. I’ve got a link further down the post that relates to the new laws going into effect today throughout the US…but first.

Yesterday marked  The 20th Anniversary of the End of the Soviet Union.

In addition to being the last day of the year, today is also the twentieth anniversary of the official end of the Soviet Union, when the last Soviet government institutions shut down. Today’s quasi-authoritarian Russia is far from admirable. But, despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s lame and self-serving claims to the contrary, it is still a vast improvement over the USSR. In addition to the benefits for Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, the fall of the USSR also created important benefits for the rest of the world. I covered the many advantages of the end of the USSR in more detail in this post.

With the demise of the USSR, we were spared a regime that slaughtered millions both within and outside its borders, inflicted numerous other human rights violations, and created a threat of nuclear annihilation that hung over the entire world. Compared to that, the very real dangers of the post-Cold War world seem minor by comparison. I recognize, of course, that the USSR in the last years of Gorbachev’s reign was much less dangerous and oppressive than it had been previously. But had the regime survived, it is far from clear that Gorby’s reforms would not have been reversed. Previous episodes of Soviet liberalization in the 1920s and 1956–64 had been followed by waves of repression at home and expansionism abroad. Moreover, Gorbachev himself was not as much of a liberal democrat as he is often portrayed in the West. He used force to try to suppress the independence movement in the Baltics, and otherwise sought to preserve the Soviet regime, not end it. He was certainly much less ruthless and repressive than his predecessors. But that is judging him by a very low standard of comparison. Nonetheless, it is fortunate that Gorbachev’s efforts at limited liberalization spun out of his control and led to a beneficial outcome that he did not intend.

Lately, I have had Moscow on my mind, I’ve been reading a book about Catherine the Great on my new Kindle, and last night on TCM, they showed the movie Fail-Safe. It’s about a US military glitch that sent nukes to blow up Moscow. When the bomb hits the Russian city, the US president…played by Henry Fonda, gives the go ahead for a US Airforce bomber to hit NYC with the same nukes that were sent into Moscow. I liked Dr. Strangelove better…the plot is very similar, but it was fun to watch the actor who played Boss Hog, Sorel Brooks, act his part in Fail-Safe as a fat bald congressman.

Anyway, this next link is something I came across earlier in the week. Time Lapse Moscow

If you’re like me and have lived your entire life in the United States, odds are most of your impressions of Russia come from Cold War-era movies: A bleak sky with people huddling about while some kind of droning chant plays in the background, endless military parades in front of harsh leaders, general dreariness. This amazing little time lapse video from zweizwei completely shatters that image, showing a colorful and bustling metropolis of Moscow. Go on and take a watch if you think your view of Russia could use a bit of a refresher.

Let’s take a trip from Moscow to Ecuador: Hulk, en fuego!

Ricardo Bohorquez

How’s this for a New Year’s cleansing ritual? In Ecuador, residents build massive dummies called años viejos (old years) and then… burn them.

Goodbye 2011! And take your rage-filled Hulk-ified baggage with you!

Back in the States, here are 40,000 things that 2011 brought us, which we now will start to see enacted: 40,000 new laws to go into effect in 2012

About 40,000 state laws taking effect at the start of the new year will change rules about  getting abortions in New Hampshire, learning about gays and lesbians in California, getting jobs in Alabama and even driving golf carts in Georgia.

Several federal rules change with the new year, too, including a Social Security increase amounting to $450 a year for the average recipients and stiff fines up to $2,700 per offense for truckers and bus drivers caught using hand-held cellphones while driving.

NBC News, the National Conference of State Legislatures, The Associated Press, and other organizations tracked the changes and offered their views on the highlights.

Many laws reflect the nation’s concerns over immigration, the cost of government and the best way to protect and benefit young people, including regulations on sports concussions.

From Minx’s Missing Link File: Take this next series of links with a grain of salt…or should I say with a twang of a banjo string. In connection with the Mayan end of the world, I have this to offer you. Mayas in Georgia?  Yes, there is speculation that Mayans cultivated the land where I live today.  Ruins in Georgia mountains show evidence of Maya connection

This 3D virtual reality image was made from the Johannes Loubser site plan.  There may be many other hidden structures in the ancient site.

This 3D virtual reality image was made from the Johannes Loubser site plan. There may be many other hidden structures in the ancient site.

Credits:
VR Image by Richard Thornton

Archaeological zone 9UN367 at Track Rock Gap, near Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, is a half mile (800 m) square and rises 700 feet (213 m) in elevation up a steep mountainside.  Visible are at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures. Much more may be hidden underground.  It is possibly the site of the fabled city of Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto failed to find in 1540, and certainly one of the most important archaeological discoveries in recent times.

Check it out:

In 1839, English architect, Frederick Catherwood, and writer, John Stephens “rediscovered’ the Maya civilization on a two-year journey through southern Mexico.  When their book on the journey was published in 1841, readers in Europe and North America were astounded that the indigenous peoples of the Americas could produce such an advanced culture.  Architects in both continents immediately recognized the strong similarity in the architectural forms and town plans between southern Mexico and the Southeastern United States. Most agronomists were convinced that corn, beans and tobacco came to the natives of the United States and Canada from Mexico.

In the decades since Catherwood’s and Stephens’ book, archaeologists have not identified any ruins in the United States which they considered to be built by a people who had originated in Mexico.  This was primarily due to their unfamiliarity with the descendants of the Southeastern mound-builders — tribes such as the Creeks, Alabamas, Natchez, Chitimachas and Choctaws.  In particular, the languages of the Creek Indians contain many Mesoamerican words.

Historians, architects and archaeologists have speculated for 170 years what happened to the Maya people.  Within a few decades, the population of the region declined by about 15 million. Archaeologists could not find any region of Mexico or Central America that evidenced a significant immigration of Mayas during this period, except in Tamaulipas, which is a Mexican state that borders Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. However, Maya influence there, seemed to be limited to a few coastal trading centers.  Where did the Maya refugees go?  By the early 21st century, archaeologists had concluded that they didn’t go anywhere.  They had died en masse.

The evidence was always there

In 1715 a Jewish lass named Liube, inscribed her name and the date on a boulder in Track Rock Gap. When Europeans first settled the Georgia Mountains in the early 1800s, they observed hundreds of fieldstone ruins, generally located either on mountaintops or the sides of mountains.  These ruins consisted of fort-like circular structures, walls, Indian mounds veneered in stone, walls, terrace retaining walls or just piles of stones.   Frontiersmen generally attributed these structures to the Indians, but the Cherokees, who briefly lived in the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s, at that time denied being their builders.

This connection to Mayan culture is more than just fieldstone ruins…

In 1999 archaeologist Mark Williams of the University of Georgia and Director of the LAMAR Institute, led an archaeological survey of the Kenimer Mound, which is on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley. Residents in the nearby village of Sautee generally assume that the massive five-sided pyramidal mound is a large wooded hill.   Williams found that the mound had been partially sculpted out of an existing hill then sculpted into a final form with clay.  He estimated the construction date to be no later than 900 AD.  Williams was unable to determine who built the mound.

Williams is a highly respected specialist in Southeastern archaeology so there was a Maya connection that he did not know about.  The earliest maps show the name Itsate, for both a native village at Sautee and another five miles away at the location of the popular resort of Helen, GA. Itsate is what the Itza Mayas called themselves. Also, among all indigenous peoples of the Americas, only the Itza Mayas and the ancestors of the Creek Indians in Georgia built five-side earthen pyramids as their principal mounds. It was commonplace for the Itza Maya to sculpt a hill into a pentagonal mound. There are dozens of such structures in Central America.

The name of Brasstown Bald Mountain is itself, strong evidence of a Maya presence.  A Cherokee village near the mountain was named Itsa-ye, when Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1820s.  The missionaries mistranslated “Itsaye” to mean “brass.”  They added “town” and soon the village was known as Brasstown.  Itsa-ye, when translated into English, means “Place of the Itza (Maya).”

There is more of this article for you to read at the link, in fact, so much was made of this “discovery and theory” that another article was written here: Mayas in the USA controversy: You be the juror

The article presents evidence to support a position long held by the Creek, Cherokee and Chitimacha Indians; namely that sea-going merchants, illiterate farmers and escaped slaves fled Mesoamerica during a period of chronic wars, drought and volcanic eruptions, then settled in what is now the Southeast and Mississippi Basin.

Although already generating approximately 81,000 “Likes” on Facebook, the article has also generated considerable controversy. A group of archaeology professors in the Southeast have vigorously objected to the article and created a separate web site to organize opposition to it.  Numerous archaeologists from around North America, however, have also placed positive comments on the article.

Makes you think of the strange possibilities doesn’t it? It is all very interesting to read.

Your Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  This past year marked the end of Roger Ebert’s show, At the Movies. Yesterday he had a blog post which pulls at your heart-strings. It talks about two friends, one who passed recently, and another one who is very near death. It seems fitting to end 2011 with these final reflections from Mr. Ebert.   O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done – Roger Ebert’s Journal

Those who opened their eyes when I did are closing them now. Word reached me on New Year’s Eve of two friends, one who has died, another who has returned home from hospital for palliative care. The first memories that come into my mind is of them laughing. I believe anyone who knew them would say the same thing. In my exploring years, when I was young and healthy and life was still ahead, they were stars in my sky, who had always been alive and would always be alive, because that is how we must act if we are to live at all.

A new year is born in a series of photos around the world, let’s hope this year is better.

May all our readers have a wonderful first day of 2012…we have a wild ride coming up this year…an election year…let’s make the best of it and try to laugh at the political circus act. One thing is certain, I am looking forward to another year of blog post here at Sky Dancing!


Sunday Reads: The phrase “brain-eating” never makes a good headline…

French Chocolate Poster, 1898

Good Sunday Morning!

Ah, hope everyone is having a magnificent weekend.  Yesterday, Wonk the Vote served up two awesome posts…here and here, if you missed them. Also, Boston Boomer wrote a quick post about the Obama bullshit remark that 60 Minutes cut from their interview with, “the 4th best American president…evah.”

Well, here is my offering this morning, just one more week until the 25th of December, and like something out of a Dickens’ nightmare…the powers that be are once again sticking it to the poor.  Congress Cuts Winter Heating Aid For The Poor While Boosting The Defense Budget

Congress reached a deal Thursday to avert a shutdown that would have begun at midnight tonight, and in doing so, Republicans found another low-income program to target, cutting funding for subsidies that help the poor stay warm during the winter by nearly 25 percent. At the same time, however, the Pentagon’s budget is getting a 1 percent boost, as the Associated Press noted:

Highlights of the $1 trillion-plus 2012 spending legislation in Congress:

—$518 billion for the Pentagon’s core budget, a 1 percent boost, excluding military operations overseas. […]

—$3.5 billion for low-income heating and utility subsidies, a cut of about 25 percent.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has become increasingly vital for American families affected by the recession, and it is utilized more and more by military families. One of every five families using LIHEAP is a military family, a 156 percent increase from 2008. Congress, however, decided to cut that program to give a boost to a budget that already makes up 20 percent of the country’s total budget and has been spared in multiple spending agreements this year (the super committee trigger a notable exception).

Plenty of evidence exists that Congress should be focused on investing into programs that boost economic growth and job creation, rather than chasing fiscal austerity toward another recession. If it insists on cutting spending to deal with the deficit now, however, the least it could do is not take the knife to each and every program that helps the poor.

Can you hear these rich congress critters, telling people like Mr. Cratchit what a waistcoat and jacket are used for… “Garments, used for protection against cold.” It is really a sad situation, at least some folks are doing good this holiday season, good as in good deeds.  Saturday, at the Walmart where my husband works, someone came in and paid off some lay-aways, then they went just up the road to another Walmart in Ellijay and did the same, $5000 worth at the Ellijay store alone!

In Louisiana, another person has falling victim to a “Brain Eating” amoeba from using a Neti Pot.

Louisiana state health officials are warning patients about potential dangers of using tap water in the sinus-irrigating neti pot after two patients died of Naegleria fowleri infection.

N. fowleri is known as a “brain-eating” amoeba because it can enter a patient’s nose, infect the brain, and cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain-tissue destroying condition.

The first Louisiana patient died of neti pot-induced infection in June.

[…]

Patients that irrigate their noses with a neti pot should use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water, Raoult Ratard, MD, a Louisiana state epidemiologist, said in the statement. He noted that tap water was safe to drink, but may not be safe for nasal cleansing.

Uh, safe to drink? Makes me wonder how safe it is period…the CDC is working with Louisiana officials on an investigation as to how these N.fowleri are getting into the municipal water supply.

In other US news, some may have missed this article from Mother Jones, No Country for Innocent Men:

“Dear Mr. Cole,” the letter began. “My name is Jerry Wayne Johnson. I’m presently a Texas prisoner. You may recall my name from your 1986 rape trial in Lubbock.”

Ruby Session was shaking as she read on. The year was 2007, and the letter was addressed to her son Timothy Cole. “I have been trying to locate you since 1995 to tell you I wish to confess I did in fact commit the rape Lubbock wrongly convicted you of.”

Ruby sat down, stood up. A picture of Tim in a tuxedo, taken at his junior prom, smiled from the mantle. Before his trial the prosecutor had offered him a deal to plead to lesser charges. “Mother,” Tim had said, “I am not pleading guilty to something I didn’t do.” He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Thirteen years later, he died behind bars.

All I can do is give you these first opening paragraphs, you need to read the entire article…words cannot express the sadness and injustice…Rick Perry must be an evil person to be able to sleep so soundly at night.

I’m going to turn to global news for a bit, the latest numbers of missing and dead from the typhoon that struck the Philippines is over 500.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) estimated 497 were killed in eight provinces in the southern Mindanao region, with more than 100 still missing.

“It’s difficult to be certain on those missing,” Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the PNRC, told Reuters. “The floods washed out whole houses and families inside. It’s possible entire families are dead and no one is reporting them missing.”

The latest report by the state disaster agency said 327 people had been killed and 274 were missing.

Stories of a wall of water washing away everything are now being reported. Philippines floods: victims tell of panic as wall of water hit cities

Devastating flash floods have drowned hundreds of people in their beds in two southern Philippine cities. Twelve hours of heavy rain from a tropical storm swelled rivers and sent walls of water crashing into homes in the Mindanao region late on Friday night, wiping out whole families, many of whom had been at Christmas parties.

I wanted to write about this next link which was published on Friday, but could not bring myself to do it.  It is still too disturbing, so I will just give you the title and the heading, you can read it if you want…or skip it until later.

Tens of thousands of children abused in Dutch Catholic institutions, report says

Eight hundred Catholic clergy and church employees were guilty of abusing children over 40 years, a commission reports

An 1,100-page report from a commission led by a former education minister and Christian Democrat leader said it could identify 800 Catholic clergy and other church employees guilty of sexually abusing children in the 40 years from 1945 and that more than 100 perpetrators were still alive.

Okay, here are a couple of links about the mistreatment of women…no surprises here:

 

Female prisoners around the world are being subjected to body cavity searches, beatings and force-feeding, are held in padded cells, shackled during childbirth, and made to work in chain gangs. Some of the worst conditions are in developing countries, but there are also serious abuses and overcrowding in Europe and North America. These are the major findings of a survey by The Independent on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of United Nations rules governing the treatment of women in prison.

 

In a scene that could have been lifted from Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s, a public bus was halted in Israel on Friday when an ultra-Orthodox man boarded and demanded that Tanya Rosenblit, commuting to Jerusalem for work, get up and move to the rear.

She refused, at which point the offending man told the bus driver that “it was his right to have her sit in the back and that he had paid to be able to do so.” He then pried open the doors, refusing to allow the bus to continue, at which point the driver called police.

When an officer arrived and approached Rosenblit, his first words weren’t empathic notes of comfort, nor were they chagrined articulations of an apology. Instead, the officer asked if she might, you know, respect the man’s wishes and move to the back.

In a Facebook post chronicling the ordeal, Rosenblit responded unequivocally:

I answered that I respected them enough by wearing modest cloths, because I knew I was going to an Orthodox neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be humiliated by those who can’t even respect their own mothers and wives.

Love that comment about respect, or lack thereof, for the wives and mothers.
This past week academia and women everywhere lost a powerful voice for women’s equality within the Jewish faith, Paula E. Hyman, Who Sought Rights for Women in Judaism, Dies at 65

Paula E. Hyman, a social historian who pioneered the study of women in Jewish life and became an influential advocate for women’s equality in Jewish religious practice, including their ordination as rabbis, died on Thursday at her home in New Haven. She was 65.

Michael Marsland/Yale University

Paula E. Hyman was an author and a social historian at Yale.

The cause was breast cancer, said her husband, Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum.

Dr. Hyman, a professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University, wrote 10 books about the Jewish experience in Europe and the United States, many of them focused on women’s roles in various communities before and after the immense Jewish migrations of the 19th and 20th centuries.

She spotlighted the special stresses confronting married Jewish women from Eastern Europe when they arrived in the United States, for instance: although they were used to working outside the home, even as primary breadwinners in some ultrareligious families, they were initially housebound in America, where custom placed married women in the home.

In her books Dr. Hyman chronicled how married Jewish women from Eastern and Western Europe overcame such customs to become full partners in family businesses, a major part of the New York garment work force and leaders of successful community protests like the Lower East Side kosher meat boycott of 1902 and the New York rent strike of 1907.

Her works are considered seminal in creating a new field of historical study — part women’s history, part Jewish history, part history of immigration in America.

I thought the story about Tanya Rosenblit connected in some sad way to the death of Paula E. Hyman, in that the conflicted cultural/religious standards which Rosenblit experienced by refusing to sit in the back of the bus are the same kind of conservative customs Hyman wrote about and studied…women having to overcome this “exclusion” of women in the Orthodox and Conservative branches of the Jewish denominations.

Influenced by the feminist movement of the 1960s, Dr. Hyman sought to apply “consciousness raising” principles to Jewish traditions that, in her view, made women second-class members of their own cultural communities, said Martha Ackelsberg, a fellow Columbia graduate student and now a professor of government at Smith College. Dr. Hyman organized discussion groups that evolved into the organization Ezrat Nashim (“Women’s Help”), which conceived and presented the “Call for Change.”

We all remember the images of Hillary Clinton that had been wiped out by an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published in NYC…the struggle is ongoing, and it seems like whether it is Jewish, Christian or Muslim…there are many religions out there that treat women as second class citizens.

I just mention the three big ones…but it goes without saying there are many, many religions that demean, degrade and disparage the status of women. And no matter what advances we make in this world, I don’t see these insulting “exclusions” of women fading at all. It may sound disheartening, but I feel that we will never get the true respect and admiration women deserve, there will always be an underlying thread of sexism masked in religious and cultural beliefs.

All right, now I’m going to move on to some lighter “stuff.”

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  You may have heard that Roger Ebert’s show is no longer being produced. However, he is very active in his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times and this post, from December 15th  is his list of The Best Films of 2011.

Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.

My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won’t be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.

One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.

Take a look at his obligating list of favorite 2011 flicks…I’ll be honest, I haven’t even seen many of them.  (In fact the only one I sat through was the Harry Potter, and that was because I took the kids to see it.) We don’t really get these other kind of films shown here in Banjoville…but I am looking forward to seeing Hugo and The Artist at some point.

And now for your Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  With such a downer of a post, I have to bring it up and end it with something funny.   On The Fourth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me: The Twelve Days Of Conservative Movement Christmas

There is a video at the link but I prefer reading the lyrics to this time honored classic Christmas song:

On the first day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
A Kenyan in the Presidency.

On the second day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Two squawking Bachmanns.
And a Muslim in the Presidency.

On the third day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Three Fox News Hosts,
Two squawking Bachmanns ,
And a racist in the Presidency

On the Fourth Day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox News Hosts,
Two Sausage Munchers,
And a liberal in the Presidency.

On the fifth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Five Tea Parties,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Nudes,
Twenty Three Bachmann kids,
And the most radical president in our history.

On the sixth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Six Newts a Laying,
Five Golden Boehners,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Nuts,
Two more years of Bachmann,
And a gangster in the Presidency.

On the seventh Day of Christmas those dummies gave to me
Seven puppets thinking,
Six Cains a Laying,
Five prayers for Rain,
Four Egyptian caliphates,
Three Fox Frauds,
Two Doctor Pauls,
And a Hussein in the presidency.

On the eighth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Eight Malkins clucking,
Seven Puppets writing,
Six Newts a laying,
Five Death Panels ,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox & Friends,
Two Suckers Koch,
And a secular socialist presidency.

On the ninth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight Coulters Braying,
Seven Puppets Marching,
Six Newts a lying,
Five Santorum smears,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Chicken Littles,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And an elite in the presidency.

On the tenth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Ten Becks a weeping,
Nine Sarah’s Tweeting,
Eight Breiberts Baaaing,
Seven Palins drowning,
Six Newts a lobbying,
Five Months No Rain,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Freakouts,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And a liberation theologist ushering in the secular socialist agenda presidency.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Eleven Government takeovers,
Ten Becks turrets,
Nine Palin coining,
Eight Cows a Mooin’,
Seven puppet staring,
Six Newts a laughing,
Five Nuts on Stage,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Dummy Hosts,
Two Squawking Bachmanns,
And a Kind of a dick in the Presidency.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Twelve dummies dumbing down down down down down down down down the electorate.
Eleven Pipelines piping,
Ten Becks a Weeping,
Nine Rogues a goin’,
Eight Armageddons,
Seven wasteful spending,
Six Newts advising,
One Donald Trump,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three f**ing dolts,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And a Freedom hater who will take your guns and put you in FEMA camps (unless you buy gold right now) in the Presidency.

Have a wonderful day, and please let us know what things you are reading and thinking about today.


Wednesday Reads: Criminals, Whistleblowers, Journalists and Artists…

Good Morning!

Wednesday is upon us again, and today we have some interesting reads for you…as the title teases, we cover just about everyone.

At least the European parliament hasn’t forgotten the Wikileak Whistleblower who has been held captive in a US military jail. The MEP’s are asking questions about Bradley Manning, and want to send a UN special reporter on torture to visit Manning and check on his condition. So here are a couple of links about this request.  Bradley Manning treatment in custody concerns MEPs

More than 50 members of the European parliament have signed an open letter to the US government raising concerns about the treatment of Bradley Manning, the US soldier in military detention for allegedly leaking classified US documents to the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks.

The call on the US government comes before a pre-trial hearing – Manning’s first appearance in court – which begins on 16 December.

The MEPs said internal investigations into Manning’s treatment in custody, which included solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, inspections by officers every five minutes from 5am onwards and removal of his clothes, had been marred by “clear conflicts of interest”.

They call for US authorities to grant Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, access to Manning.

Mendez has made repeated requests for access to the military base where Manning is held, all of which have been refused by US authorities.

That the US authorities are refusing to allow Mendez visitation, it makes one think, “What are they trying to hide?”

The open letter from European parliamentarians, which follows another signed by several hundred US legal scholars, questioned the charges against Manning and warned that his pre-trial treatment may harm the UN’s work elsewhere, “particularly its mandate to investigate allegations of torture and human rights abuses”.

“In order to uphold the rights guaranteed to Bradley Manning under international human rights law and the US constitution, it is imperative that the United Nations special rapporteur be allowed to properly investigate evidence of rights abuses. PFC Manning has a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. People accused of crimes must not be subjected to any form of punishment before being brought to trial,” they wrote.

“We certainly do not understand why an alleged whistleblower is being threatened with the death penalty, or the possibility of life in prison. We also question whether Bradley Manning’s right to due process has been upheld, as he has now spent over 17 months in pre-trial confinement.”

You can read the entire letter for yourself here:  Bradley Manning: MEPs’ open letter to the US government

Manning will attend an Article 32 hearing, the US military equivalent of a pre-trial hearing, on 16 December. This is expected to last five days. Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, has indicated he wishes to call 50 witnesses at the hearing, but military authorities are considered unlikely to grant such a request.

The Article 32 hearing then makes a recommendation to a general as to whether to proceed to a full trial.

Now, compare this to recent news from China…Ai Weiwei’s wife detained by police. 

 The wife of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was detained by police yesterday, the latest move in what has been seen as a concerted campaign to silence one of the government’s most vocal critics.

Speaking to The Independent, the artist, whose works include the Sunflower Seeds exhibition at London’s Tate Modern last year, described his wife Lu Qing’s three-hours of questioning as “ridiculous. They accused her of being a criminal suspect. When she asked them what crimes, they said it was a secret.”

Four policemen took Ms Lu, also a high-profile artist, from the couple’s Beijing studio to a local police station where she was questioned about a design company that manages Ai’s art, which is currently the focus of a £1.5m tax-evasion case.

“She is quite hurt. She’s very innocent; she doesn’t know anything about politics.” Mr Ai said.

Her cameraman and assistant has also been detained for questioning, in regards to one of Lu’s photographs that is now being labeled by the police as “pornography.”

What can you say, it does not seem to be much difference between China and the US.

In fact, this next link from the ACLU has information on the process of detaining US Citizens using the ICE’s Secure Communities.  Detain First, Investigate Later: How U.S. Citizens Are Unlawfully Detained Under S-Comm

Detain first, investigate later — that is Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mantra when it comes to its Secure Communities (“S-Comm”) program, a program designed to immediately ensnare any immigrant in the deportation pipeline the moment they come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Under S-Comm, the fingerprints of every person arrested by the police are shared with ICE at the moment they are booked into police custody. Without investigating the person’s immigration status, ICE immediately sends an “immigration detainer” or a request back to the police if they want the person to continue to be detained for immigration purposes. Detain first, investigate later.

See a problem with this? Not only does it violate the Fourth Amendment’s basic prohibition against detaining a person without probable cause to do so, but it commonly ensnares the wrong people, including people who are not even immigrants, but United States citizens, causing them to be unlawfully detained.

The post goes on to describe personal experiences with the policy of Detain First, Investigate Later.

ICE, quite clearly, has no business arresting and detaining American citizens. But as described in a recent report by the Warren Institute at University of California — Berkeley, they do so over and over again through the fundamentally-flawed S-Comm program. (ICE’s own data in the first year of S-Comm activation revealed that five percent of persons identified by S-Comm were in fact U.S. citizens.) And they do so by enlisting the unwitting participation of local jail authorities in these unconstitutional practices.

The costs and consequences of S-Comm’s detain first, investigate later are borne out every day in the jails and police stations across the country where non-deportable citizens and noncitizens suffer needless detention, while they beg for ICE to finally investigate their cases so that they may be released from jail.

Which makes me think of the recent Immigration Law passed in Alabama. Via Atrios:  But The Law Was Only Supposed To Apply To Brown People

…many foreign manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda, have set up there. Its business-friendly reputation took a serious blow with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal immigrant.

You see, you aren’t business friendly when you’re locking up the people who run the business, only when you’re locking up the people who work for it.

I know it isn’t funny, but the fact that they treated this Mercedes executive like an illegal immigrant made me laugh out loud.

Now here are some links involving Journalism and Journalists…which according to one link, calling some of the media’s reports “journalism” is rather a large leap.

First, this report about Lynsey Addario, New York Times Journalist, Strip Searched By Israeli Soldiers.

Israel’s Defense Ministry apologized Monday for the treatment of a pregnant American news photographer who said she was strip searched and humiliated by Israeli soldiers during a security check.

Lynsey Addario, who was on assignment for the New York Times, had requested that she not be forced to go through an X-ray machine as she entered Israel from the Gaza Strip because of concerns for her unborn baby.

Instead, she wrote in a letter to the ministry, she was forced through the machine three times as soldiers “watched and laughed from above.” She said she was then taken into a room where she was ordered by a female worker to strip down to her underwear.

Wait, they forced her to take the x-ray three times and then made her strip?

In the Oct. 25 letter sent by the newspaper said Addario, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is based in India and has worked in more than 60 countries, had never been treated with “such blatant cruelty.”

The ministry said an investigation found that the search followed procedures but noted that Addario’s request to avoid the X-ray machine had not been properly relayed.

Addario said she made the request not to go through the X-ray machine before arriving at the crossing.

“We would like to apologize for this particular mishap in coordination and any trouble it may subsequently have caused to those involved,” the statement said.

Hopefully, the x-ray screening did not harm her fetus…

Here in the US, CBS and CNN is getting flack for its recent “Exclusive Interviews” that are not real interviews, but video of a reporter knocking on the door and being told to f-off. Laurie Fine Interview On CNN

On Nov. 15, CBS touted an exclusive interview with Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, the man who allegedly saw and reported Jerry Sandusky abusing a boy in the locker room shower. The interview with Armen Keteyian lasted a whopping 24 seconds and its only legacy was a brief “shaken like a snowglobe” Internet meme. To say it was roundly mocked by anyone watching would be an understatement.

On Monday, CNN — with far less lead-up fanfare — touted an exclusive interview with Laurie Fine, wife of former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, who is accused of molesting team ball boys. This interview lasted 18 seconds, and consisted of AC 360‘s Gary Tuchman knocking on the door of the Fine house, and swatting down “no comments” from Laurie Fine by asking more questions. He eventually got the door shut in his face as a dog barked at him.

The Mediate post goes on to breakdown these “interviews” and honestly it is a laugh.

Keteyian’s interview consisted of 68 words, 29 of which were McQueary’s. Tuchman’s was 70 words, 21 of which were Fine’s…And we never see Laurie Fine’s face. Just a voice from inside the house, caught on a microphone that Tuchman had on him.

Video at the link above.

I’m giving you another link to Mediaite, this time highlighting a segment on Colbert: Stephen Colbert On CNN iReporters: ‘This Bold Move Will Help You Get Rid Of Your Remaining Viewers’

On Monday night’s The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert deftly tore into CNN for laying off dozens of its employees and choosing instead to rely more heavily on free (and, as one might be inclined to point out, often irrelevant) viewer-produced “iReports.”

“Why buy the cow,” Colbert mused, “when you can have it shakily videotape its own milk for free?”

Perhaps if CNN used an iReporter for the Fine interview, it would have been better than the professional one Tuchman taped?/snark

Colbert also noted that readers are reimbursed for their efforts with badges, which, he assumes, can probably be used to pay for food and rent. So far, readers have submitted personal vacation footage, a little girl’s weather report, and footage of some rambling man who calls himself “Blitz” or some such.

[…]

“Bravo CNN,” added Colbert, “for getting rid of all those pesky professionals. Hopefully this bold move will help you get rid of your remaining viewers.”

Too damn funny!

Okay, now this next journalism link is serious…and very interesting. h/t Susie Madrak: Tehelka – India’s Independent Weekly News Magazine

‘Journalism, not truth, is the first casualty of war’

WAR IS a well-produced reality show. Embedded journalism is the star cast. Yes, there are innocents dying, but why let that interfere with what the boss wants reported? Award-winning documentary filmmaker-journalist John Pilger is like the Censor Board in reverse. He hunts down secret footage and uses it as damning evidence, countering what war mongers want you to believe. His 2010 documentary The War You Don’t See had its Indian premiere in Delhi recently. Its footage of a US chopper firing on unarmed Baghdad residents and injured children being ignored as collateral damage raises questions about the media’s engage ment with war. Ironically, the journalists were conspicuous by their absence. For someone who has covered every major war of our times, even Pilger, 72, underneath his composed exterior, seemed disappointed. He tells Karuna John that journalists owe their loyalty to telling the truth. Period.

The link takes you to a Q & A with John Pilger, and after reading the “crap” being called “journalism” at CNN…it is refreshing to read about the real thing.

Just a few more links for you this morning. I find it curious that in Georgia, Herman and Newt’s extra-marital affairs are actually illegal. Map: Is Adultery Illegal? Why is the religious right so silent? Hasn’t both of these presidential candidates broken a few of those laws written on stone that folks like Pat Robertson are so passionate about?

Times are tough, the economy sucks ass and it doesn’t look like any help will be on the way soon.

Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars  This is a video link to a segment from this week’s 60 Minutes.

More than 16 million children are now living in poverty and, for many of them, a proper home is elusive. Some cash-strapped families stay with relatives; others move into motels or homeless shelters. But, as Scott Pelley reports, sometimes those options run out, leaving an even more desperate choice: living in their cars. 60 Minutes returns to Florida, home to one third of America’s homeless families, to find out what life is like for the epidemic’s youngest survivors.

Add to this an article from the New York Times that highlights the loss of jobs within the black community.  As Public Sector Sheds Jobs, Black Americans Are Hit Hard

Though the recession and continuing economic downturn have been devastating to the American middle class as a whole, the two and a half years since the declared end of the recession have been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks in terms of layoffs and unemployment, according to economists and recent government data. About one in five black workers have public-sector jobs, and African-American workers are one-third more likely than white ones to be employed in the public sector.

“The reliance on these jobs has provided African-Americans a path upward,” said Robert H. Zieger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida, and the author of a book on race and labor. “But it is also a vulnerability.”

A study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California this spring concluded, “Any analysis of the impact to society of additional layoffs in the public sector as a strategy to address the fiscal crisis should take into account the disproportionate impact the reductions in government employment have on the black community.”

Jobless rates among blacks have consistently been about double those of whites. In October, the black unemployment rate was 15.1 percent, compared with 8 percent for whites. Last summer, the black unemployment rate hit 16.7 percent, its highest level since 1984.

Economists say there are probably a variety of reasons for the racial gap, including generally lower educational levels for African-Americans, continuing discrimination and the fact that many live in areas that have been slow to recover economically.

Hmmm…maybe Obama’s lack of attention to African-Americans high unemployment also is not helping matters…please give the entire article you time. The story is a sad one, and many of us are familiar with the stresses a family will go through when jobs are lost and people are in survival mode. The holidays make it even more difficult.

This next link discusses how the Recession hits families hard as half of Americans fear they won’t be able to do their holiday shopping . The article points out that one in five American families do not have disposable income.

Worried: Financial troubles are dampening people's expectations this season

Worried: Financial troubles are dampening people’s expectations this season.

While the deals in stores and online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are meant to encourage shoppers, many people’s bank statements are having the opposite effect.

As a result of the difficult financial times and the diminishing disposable cash in many American households, half of the country is concerned that they will not be able to buy the gifts they want for family and friends this holiday season.

A CBS poll reports that 33 per cent of those polled will not have enough money for holiday shopping.

Okay, very depressing news…and very depressing numbers. Let’s end this post with some geeky news about True Random Numbers Created by Firing Lasers at Diamonds

True random numbers are very hard to come by, as this article from Geeosystem points out:

Computers have an especially hard time creating random numbers since they operate by algorithm. Sure, you can get a pseudo-random number by using a “randomly” selected seed and running a whole bunch of operations on it, but that’s still not random. For that matter, neither is rolling dice. Granted, we generally don’t have enough information to predict the outcome, so rolls are effectively random, but not actually random. Now, Ottowa physicist Ben Sussman has come up with a way to create large quantities of true random numbers, with science!

The process works a little something like this. Sussman takes a big old beam of science a laser, and fires a several-trillosecond burst through a diamond. In the process of going through the diamond, the laser fundamentally changes in completely random ways, providing those true random numbers everyone craves. That’s right. Ben Sussman makes random numbers by shooting lasers at diamonds, for science. This is exactly the kind of experiment I imagined scientists doing when I was about 6 years old. The only way this could be cooler is if it were all going down in space.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “So what’s so random about this? After all, if dice rolls aren’t random because we theoretically could predict them, what makes this laser-diamond stuff any different?” Well, we theoretically can’t predict these numbers. It’s not that we don’t know how the light changes inside the diamond. It’s that we can’t know. It is unknowable. To know would defy the very laws of physics.

As you can probably guess, quantum physics is to blame for this one. While traveling through the diamond, the laser experiences a quantum fluctuation, and according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it is literally impossible to figure out what happened in there; all we can do is take a look at what’s coming out the other side. Basically, when you shoot a laser through a diamond, quantum physics does a whole bunch of stuff that is literally impossible to know, ever. Are you getting this?! This is science, baby!

Yeah Baby!

What are you all reading about this morning!