Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Mission Accomplished"? "Mission Impossible"!

Taliban fight intensifies in Afghanistan

Newsday Staff Correspondent

May 19, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban guerrillas fought Afghan police and U.S. and Canadian troops yesterday in some of southern Afghanistan's fiercest battles since the United States ousted the Islamic militant movement from power in 2001.

An American police trainer and a Canadian officer were among the scores killed since Wednesday in a series of attacks that included a ground assault on a village, suicide car bombings against military vehicles, and firefights with Western troops.

The past two days underscore what appears to be a major Taliban offensive to strengthen the influence of the movement in the south as U.S. forces there hand off combat roles to arriving NATO units. In one of two significant ground battles raging since Wednesday, Capt. Nichola Goddard, 26, was killed in Kandahar province, the first Canadian woman soldier ever to die in a combat role.

That battle was at Panjwai, a village district only 15 miles from Kandahar, the hub of southern Afghanistan's economy and politics. In Helmand province, just west of Kandahar, hundreds of Taliban attacked Afghan police and government offices Wednesday in the town of Musa Qala. Afghan officials said 13 policemen died, while reports of Taliban dead ranged from nine to 50.

Beyond Afghanistan's deep south, a Taliban stronghold, the attacks were by suicide car bombs.
Hmmmmm...we have dozens of people dying in Iraq each day under an unstable regime, in the Palestinian sector, there are terror bombings trying to take out the government there, Guantanamo is turning into a battle royale, Chechnya is still in unrest, and now the Taliban have reared their ugly heads.

So where's the President? Beating up on Burma, and insisting that immigrants do something he's never mastered, speak English.

Nice. Very nice.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mine's Bigger

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

The inmates at Gitmo gave a whole battalion of Marines problems and all they were armed with was THIS?!?!?!?!

Good grief, it's no wonder we can't find Osama. We're too busy learning to defend ourselves against an attacker bearing FRUIT!

The Coolest Store You Will Ever See

The New Apple Store: Midtown Manhattan

This is really cool. The store will be open 24/365, so if I get the jones for the latest iPod at 2AM on Thanksgiving night, I can scoot over and pick it up. You'll know where to find me.

Mets v. Yankees


Two up, one down! Maybe this team really IS that good!

Obligatory "AWWWWWWWWWWWW!" Moment

Brooklyn DA offers commendation for 'Undercover Kitty'

Newsday Staff Writer

May 19, 2006
True to form, Fred the placid undercover cat was a model of good behavior Thursday as he received one of the annual law enforcement appreciation awards given out by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.

The friendly "Detective Fred," as Hynes called him, purred in satisfaction as the veteran prosecutor gave him a special plaque for his effort that led to the arrest earlier this year of a suspected bogus veterinarian.

"I told him a grateful county gives honor to you," said Hynes after the special awards ceremony at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.

Fred, a 1-year-old American shorthair, was actually one of 21 honorees -- the rest two-legged police officers, detectives, fire marshals and court officers -- cited for risking their lives to save others or apprehend suspects.

Also honored with Fred was undercover detective Stephanie Jones, who works for Hynes and who took part in the case against Steven Vassall, the Brooklyn man accused of posing as a fake veterinarian. The charges against Vassall, who has plead not guilty, are pending.

Fred got more publicity earlier this week when Newsday reported that he was on his way to be certified for use in pet therapy as part of Hynes' "Legal Lives" program to tell school children about the importance of kindness to animals.
Anybody who knows me even a little (just look at the upper right hand corner of this blog), knows I'm a sucker for cats. Especially tabbies.

Tabbies are the cats I most associate with the street, and since I grew up on the street (admittedly, the streets of the Upper East Side, but hey, I was the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid in a Sicilian gangster neighborhood, and I was in high demand from the girls. You do the math.), I have a deep affinity for them.

My experiences with tabbies are that they are tough, smart, affectionate and loyal. My father adopted one from a construction site where he was working, and we kept that cat for eleven years.

OK, "kept" might be too strong a word, as we used to let it into our "backyard" (more like an alleyway that got some sunshine on occasion), where he would promptly leap to the roof of the radio-station-masquerading-as-a-church next door (long time Pacifica listeners will know the station instantly), and disappear and do whatever it is cats do on the street.

He was vasectomized, so I had no concerns about him being dragged into a paternity suit.

I liked to imagine he was the friendly cat at the Irish bar on the corner, getting the occasional piece of bacon tossed to him. I'd run into him occasionally when I was staggering home from some boitê on the UES at one in the morning, and he'd always escort me home. Good little bouncer.

One night, he didn't come home, no matter how much we'd call out the back window. Yea, people in Manhattan used to do that, just like in the old movies from the Lower East Side: "Ma! T'row me down a jelly sammich!" "Bobby, you get in here THIS INSTANT!"

My mom and I pulled on some clothes (hey, it was hot and the building wasn't wired for A/C. We sat in our underwear a lot.), and roamed the neighborhood looking. It must have been quite the site to see a teenager and a middle aged woman walking around, whispering into manholes and basement bulkheads.

We did that for a few days, and then decided to wait a while and see what happened. About a week after disappearing, Mikko came wandering back along the path he usually clambered home on: up the fire escape of the building on the side street, make the leap to the annex to the restaurant, up to the church roof, then down to the ground, then make the eight foot leap up, scraping his hind paws on the brick, and up to the roof across from our backyard.

He didn't look much worse for the wear, a little skinnier, with the slightest odor of burned oil on him. Best as we could figure, he must have gotten trapped in a boiler room somewhere and feasted on the mice and waterbugs.

Mmmmmmm, that's good eatin'!

The other tabby I've "owned"? That's a story for another day, but his tale is even more remarkable.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

When It Rains, It Pours!

Literally. Go check the weather for NYC.

But....remember that good news I said I had?

It just doubled. More to come.

Darfur Update

Tina Susman of Newsday is doing some stellar reporting from Darfur. This story has been "backburnered", undeservedly, by domestic immigration issues. Gee....can't imagine why....Let's see what's she's reporting on:
Using rape as a weapon of war

May 14, 2006

NYALA, Sudan -- The gunmen eyed the 11 women for a few moments, as if scanning a menu. Then they chose three: Buthereina Hassab el-Dama, her sister and their cousin.

"These two men who took me - one was doing the action, and the other was threatening me with a gun," el-Dama, 22, recalled, adjusting the lavender shawl framing her face and narrow shoulders.

Rape is a word few people can bring themselves to utter here, least of all those who have been through it, but el-Dama's euphemism was clear as she shared her story in the fading light of a hot, Saturday afternoon. It is a common story in Darfur, where human rights groups say soldiers and militiamen loyal to the Arab-dominated government have used rape as a weapon in their war against non-Arab tribes - a charge the government denies but that is supported by scores of reports based on victims' stories.

Nobody knows how many women have been victims of war-related rapes here, because of reluctance to report the crime, but victims' advocates say the number is in the tens of thousands. The signing of a peace deal May 5 between the government and the main rebel group isn't likely to change that, they say, because of the lack of security on the ground in Darfur.

"In war, any tactic an aggressor can use to demoralize his enemy works in his favor. Rape does just that," said Janet Kerr, a psychologist and sexual violence expert who works in the Kalma displacement camp, outside Nyala, with the international aid group Doctors Without Borders. "It is a very effective way to undermine an enemy."

In a four-month period last year, Doctors Without Borders treated nearly 500 rape victims at various locations in Darfur and said in a report that this was "only a partial representation" of the actual number.
We all know rape happens in war. Rape is ultimately about power and aggression, and rape is ultimately a dominance tactic: rape a woman or a man, and youu've more than humiliated her, you've subjugated her. That's why rape is such an underreported crime and why the anti-abortion activists are so wrong about the issue of "choice": oftentimes, it's not the woman's choice to BE pregnant in the first place.

Other reporting from Darfur:
Starved for a solution

May 15, 2006

NYALA, Sudan -- A 5-month-old boy who, at 7 1/2 pounds looked as fragile as a newborn, sucked formula through a thin tube positioned against his emaciated mother's chest. Some day, when his mother is able to provide milk to nourish her son, it is hoped he will have learned to associate her breast with food and be weaned from the tube.

Until then, Martam Mohamed Khamis and her tiny boy, Abdul Rahman Suliman, are full-time residents of one of the most troubling symbols of Darfur's 3-year-old war: a therapeutic feeding center for children on the verge of starvation.

By the end of April, malnutrition was affecting 15 percent of the population in South Darfur, where this feeding center is located. That is a sharp increase from three months earlier and a sign of deteriorating conditions in the region, where international aid groups had cut malnutrition rates from 21.7 percent in 2004 to about half that last year.

But an upsurge in fighting since January has increased the number of those needing food and medical assistance. So has a drop in international donations to UN agencies such as the United Nations' World Food Program, which last month had received just $238 million, or 32 percent, of the $746 million it needed for Darfur in 2006. The shortfall is so great that starting May 1, the agency resorted to what its Darfur director, Carlos Veloso, called "drastic measures." It halved rations to the 3 million people it is feeding in Darfur, bringing their daily caloric count from 2,100 to 1,050.

In this harsh environment, where people must walk several miles in searing heat through soft sand to fetch water and firewood, and where cooking is an energy-consuming, time-intensive exercise involving stirring and mashing of the dried rations, aid workers worry about the cut's impact.

"If this continues, I'm afraid we'll go back to where we were in 2004, and all the gains we made in Darfur will be lost," said the program's Penny Ferguson.
Nevermind that, as I related earlier this year, people are killed for merely poking their heads out in public to fetch a pail of water.

So why is this being hushed up? Let me let Tina explain:
Where the Despair Begins

May 14, 2006

NYALA, Sudan --[....]

"These things happen every day," said Naser Bashier Kambal of the Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, a Sudanese organization that helps victims of Darfur's war. "It's something systematic that is going on," said Kambal. "If they find women, they rape. If they find men, they kill. Every day such things happen and no one intervenes. They just move on."

Kambal's words capture the plight of Darfur, a region about the size of Texas, where a war between black African rebels and Sudan's Arab-dominated regime evolved into a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign that, by some estimates, has killed 400,000 civilians and left millions struggling to survive.

Although the government and one of the three main rebel groups signed a (ed note: U.S.-brokered ) peace accord May 5, nobody expects things to change quickly for people like Fatina. Two rebel groups oppose the deal, and the government has yet to accept the idea of UN peacekeepers to implement the agreement. In addition, the plan gives the government a full five months to disarm the dreaded janjaweed - months during which there will be no formidable force on the ground to protect civilians.
Say it with me loud, but not proud:

George W. Bush - FAILURE!

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Passed On From A Friend

Ten Things To Ponder

Number 10 - Life is sexually transmitted.

Number 9 - Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

Number 8 - Men have two emotions: Hungry and Horny. If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich.

Number 7 - Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.

Number 6 - Some people are like a Slinky...not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.

Number 5 - Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Number 4 - All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

Number 3 - Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars an a substantial tax cut saves you thirty cents?

Number 2 - In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

AND THE NUMBER 1 THOUGHT FOR 2006 - We know exactly where one cow with mad-cow-disease is located among the millions and millions of cows in America but we haven't got a clue as to where thousands of terrorists are located. Maybe we should put the Department of Agriculture in charge of Homeland Security?

Now We're Talking!

Who'da figured that the New York State gubenatorial race would become a hotbed of progressive ideas?

Here you have Eliot Spitzer with a commanding lead over his nominal primary opponent, Tom Suozzi, and a significant lead over "the other guy" (aka the stooge the NYS GOP puts up against Spitzer).

While Suozzi could make some news and noise going out on a limb and proposing congestion pricing on state highways, Spitzer can sit back and talk about how green the grass is, and how we can make it even greener by fertilizing a few times a season.

But no:
Spitzer pushes for universal Internet access

By Justin Rocket Silverman
amNewYork staff writer

May 16, 2006

Citing a 1934 law that ensured telephone service for every American household, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday that the federal government must now make the same guarantee for Internet access.

Until that happens, the gubernatorial candidate proposes that New York State take responsibility for ensuring there is no velvet rope blocking the entrance to the World Wide Web.

"We must make New York State the most connected and technologically advanced place to live and do business in the world," Spitzer said during a speech in Manhattan at the Personal Democracy Forum, which examined the intersection of technology and politics. "The problem isn't a lack of resources, it's a lack of imagination and a lack of leadership."

Yet as Spitzer himself pointed out Monday, the goal of universal Internet access could require a major shift in the way broadband, DSL and dial-up connections are provided.

Only one-third of New York City residents have high-speed connections at home, and there are vast swaths of upstate counties where high-speed service is simply not offered because providers don't think they can make a profit.

He emphasized that he does not want the state to give away Internet service for free, but decried current conditions where a family in the South Bronx pays twice as much as a family in South Korea for service that is only half as fast.
There you go! In a nutshell, the trouble with America, its education system, and its government: in an information society, we need to provide information as if it was a utility.

See, I think there are some things that cry out for government regulation, being the liberal that I am. Things like water, electricity, telephone service, and yes, information, demand careful government oversight in order to realize the fruits of these technologies and resources.

When AT&T was a monopoly, they could afford to spend money on research and development and because of that, not only did telephony improve (to the point where America became the first nationally wired nation of the size that it is), but advances in other fields as diverse as astronomy and biology took hold.

Why? Because while AT&T was limited in the amount they could charge their customers, there was no limit to the profit they could make on that money. Ergo, they spent on things that would help them lower their costs.

We got reasonably cheap phone service (no, it wasn't "market competition" cheap, but I'll get to that in a moment), improved service, and connectivity. When competition was forced upon AT&T (the breakup in 1984), things did not markedly improve. In fact, there was not one single new technology developed after 1984 that was not already in the works in 1984, or at least mapped out on a drawing board somewhere.

Yes, there were improvements in cell phone service, but have you ever seen what European or Asian cell phones can do, as compared to our "free market" services?

In Finland, you can buy a soda from a machine using your cell phone. They've been able to do that for years. Only recently, have we started to see the slightest hint of that technology here in America.

Why? Because Europe standardized their phone signal. Government regulation forced the phone companies to design their technology around that one standard.

I'll have more on this discussion in the coming weeks. Let me get back to Spitzer's idea.

Universal internet access from home is an idea whose time has come. There's a deep divide in this nation between the wired and the unwired. The opinions you see reflected on the internet, on this blog and on EVERY OTHER BLOG, are those posted by people with the means (e.g. money) to afford a computer, even if that computer is at their workplace, or the local library.

Decisions that affect our country get their impetus, in part, from the Net. What we've created in the past ten years (I say this as one of the original Prodigy subscribers and someone who's lurked The Well and EchoNY from before the WWW) is a digital serfdom: those who aren't "linked" are doomed to be led around by those who are.

That has to change. It's only fair. Thank you, Eliot.

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A Contest (Of Sorts)

If you were going to rename this blog, what would you name it?

I'm serious. I'm thinking of names for this blog (something a bit more clever than "Carl's Beer-Laden Rants") to use.

Things that I've come up with on my own:

- Thematic Schematic

- Winter's Edge

- An Unperfect Actor On A Stage

- The Mars Of Malcontents

- Reality Broker

- The Long/Short Fund

Any other ideas? Anybody like any of these names?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In Ten Days....

Very Exciting News To Share

Keep your eyes open. This is a killer.

Best. Take. Ever. On. Immigration. "Reform."

Courtesy Jesus' General. Buy the mug.

Are They Even Trying Anymore?

Because this is a time-sensitive post, as the New York Times tends to archive quickly, I'll quote extensively:
Rising Diabetes Threat Meets a Falling Budget

Published: May 16, 2006
In Worcester, Mass., scientists are boxing up their test tubes at a shuttered laboratory where just two years ago they isolated a chemical that triggers diabetes.

In Oklahoma City, health workers faced with soaring rates of Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, question whether they can afford to continue to offer classes where diabetics learn how to avoid foot amputations.

In Columbia, S.C., diabetes educators say they need more money to expand a program that uses the pulpit in black churches to preach the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.

Across the country, health care officials who rely on federal money to help stem the growing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes say they have become increasingly frustrated and alarmed.

Diabetes is the only major disease with a death rate that is still rising — up 22 percent since 1990 — and it has emerged as the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness and nontraumatic amputation.

But public health experts say federal spending on the disease has historically fallen short of what is needed. And now the government has cut diabetes funds in the budgets for this year and next, despite the explosive growth of a disease that now figures in the deaths of 225,000 Americans each year.

[....]The number of Type 2 diabetics in the United States has doubled in the past two decades, to an estimated 20 million, when undiagnosed cases are included, making the disease the country's fastest-growing public health problem. Epidemiologists predict that one in three American children born in 2000 will join the ranks of those afflicted with Type 2.

This year, the federal government is spending $1.1 billion to study diabetes, less than a quarter of what is spent to study cancer. The government spends 10 times more per patient on cancer research, and the death rate for that disease, unlike that for diabetes, has begun to fall.

Epidemiologists say the disparity is partly explained by lingering but outdated perceptions of diabetes as a slow-moving condition that preys on the old and obese, not more recent views of it as an expanding danger that is striking people at earlier ages. [....]

Disease research is often underwritten by advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies, but the federal government is by far the chief financier. From the viewpoint of pure economics, some health experts say it is hard to fathom why the federal government does not spend more on diabetes, which the American Diabetes Association has estimated costs the United States economy about $132 billion per year for treatment and lost productivity at work. Federal spending for both research and treatment, meanwhile, is $1.2 billion annually.

"That means the federal government is putting less than 1 percent of what this disease costs us into research and development," said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, president of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, a leading research institution. "Even the tire industry spends at least 3 percent of their total sales on research and development."
(emphases added)

Disgusting. But check out this graphic to get even angrier...

Any of my FReeper lurkers care to explain this to me? How a Federal agency can have its budget nearly doubled, and yet only see an incremental increase in spending to prevent and cure a disease of epidemic proportions?

I'm waiting...

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Monday, May 15, 2006

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Lawmaker revisits NYC secession

By Chuck Bennett
amNewYork Staff Writer

May 15, 2006
New York City -- the 51st state. It's an old idea being revived once again in the City Council.

Months before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood proposed seceding from the state and creating the "Free City of Tri-Insula" to keep the lucrative cotton trade with the South alive.

A little over a hundred years later in 1969, writers Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin ran for mayor and council speaker on a statehood campaign.

And now Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. says he is "deadly serious" about having the Big Apple secede from the Empire State.

"The only reason we are in bad financial condition is because of Albany," he said, citing the $3.5 billion in taxes the city pays to Albany but isn't returned in funding. "We just want our own money back."

Vallone, an ambitious politicians and son of the former council speaker Peter Vallone, wants a citywide referendum to create a commission to study secession and the creation of a "Greater New York."

Personally, he likes the idea of calling the new state -- which would be the 10th largest in the union -- Gotham or just New York.

But to ever get there, secession would need approval voters, the Legislature, the governor, Congress and then the president.
Count me in on this one. It's about time New York City got the respect of statehood. We pay into the Federal and state governments far more than we receive back from either of them. With two Senators and twenty-someodd Congressmen, we'd finally be able to exploit our political muscle directly, rather than be told what to do by a state that you could squeeze the population of into a small corner of one of our outer boroughs.

We'd be able to have an income tax imposed on people who fled the city for "a better life" outside, while still sponging up our services when they come into work and take their paychecks home. As it stands now, we can't do that. We have to have our municipal budgeting, planning, and infrastructure approved by the state legislature AND governor. That's just silly: no body in Rochester gives a rats' ass about how many subway lines there are in Queens, yet they hold partial veto power over it!

Fifty-first state. We'd even get our own odd star....

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

It seems, as I peruse the liberal blogtopia (©Skippy), everyone is posting paeans (today, we'll pronouce it "payons" not "peeons" as the proper pronunciation would dictate) to their moms.

My mom is a self-centered egoist who I spent most of my adult life "thanking" for bearing and raising me by trying to live my life according to her wishes. I think I'm owed a "Carl's day" for that.

Mothers have this strange hold over us all, and yet when you analyze the situation, it's a frightfully tyrannical position they hold. The sole mom I have respect for is my daughter's mom, who put up with me (and still does, in her way) for thirty years in various forms: friend, lover, wife, and friend again.

So, if you have a good relationship with your mom and are spending time today thanking her, then Happy Mother's Day. I did my son-ly duty, visited my mom, gave her her flowers, and was informed that I'm needed to drive her to see my dad (whom she has hated for fifty years, so why she bothers is beyond me) on Father's Day. I walked out.

My day. Go fig. But then, she's always had this way of imposing her wishes on her children with not a thought to their own wants and needs.