Thursday, August 31, 2006

Finally Some News We Can Use!

US broadcaster CNN has apologised after an anchorwoman's chat with a colleague was accidentally broadcast live during a speech by President George W Bush. The conversation between Kyra Phillips and another woman was clearly heard as Mr Bush talked in New Orleans to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. During the chat, Ms Phillips talked about her husband and called her sister-in-law a "control freak".
CNN apologised to viewers and the president, citing "audio difficulties".

I've heard worse.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Getting It Right... Or Wrong.

The BBC published a recent article on some of the new controls that Wikipedia is thinking of implementing to reduce vandalism and incorrect information. I'm all for ensuring information is accurate, but if massive news corporations aren't expected to get the facts right, why should Wikipedia be singled out as inherently unreliable? Anyhow, the article prompted me to go over and browse a little and the photo of the day was just too good to pass up. To see more of Moondigger's photos, click here. To see a chart of the 50 most viewed pages at Wikipedia for the month of August 2006, click here.

Red sandstone interior of Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona, worn smooth due to erosion by flash flooding over millions of years

Monday, August 28, 2006

Oh Faust, Wherefore Art Thou?

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things: and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
né le 28 août, 1749

Who Said Romance Is Dead?

Effective today the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau, which formerly issued licences 24 hours a day, will no longer do so. Eloping couples will only be allowed to purchase the required legal documentation outside of the hours of midnight to 0800. The Bureau is trying to save money. Love-struck couples will still be able to marry after midnight, but the licence must be purchased during daylight hours.

No word on whether 24-hour, drive-through divorces will still be available.

And good luck.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24, 1572

Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 1572

This sordid piece of French history is one that her freethinking population makes sure nobody forgets: centuries later it remains a useful argument against theocracies. Estimates of the dead range from 2-5000 in Paris, and up to 30,000 in France as a whole as Catholics (roughly 95% of the population at the time) went hog wild after being given carte blanche to butcher every Protestant they could lay their hands on. Here's how the Catholic Church begins its side of the story:

This massacre of which Protestants were the victims occurred in Paris on 24 August, 1572 (the feast of St. Bartholomew), and in the provinces of France during the ensuing weeks, and it has been the subject of knotty historical disputes.

The first point argued was whether or not the massacre had been premeditated by the French Court — Sismondi, Sir James Mackintosh, and Henri Bordier maintaining that it had, and Ranke, Henri Martin, Henry White, Loiseleur, H. de la Ferrière, and the Abbé Vacandard, that it had not. The second question debated was the extent to which the court of Rome was responsible for this outrage. At present only a few over-zealous Protestant historians claim that the Holy See was the accomplice of the French Court: this view implies their belief in the premeditation of the massacre, which is now denied by the majority of historians. For the satisfactory solution of the question it is necessary to distinguish carefully between the attempted murder of Coligny on 22 August and his assassination on the night of 23-24 August, and the general massacre of Protestants.

Of course, what they forget to mention is that the pope had a medal struck commorating the occasion, said a thanksgiving mass and had a painting commissioned, in the Vatican, to trumpet the saving of the Holy See from Protestant heretics. Try Wikipedia's version too.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

People Need Direction

Deborah Boschman wrote a letter to the Brandon Sun recently, criticizing her city council. Her Pentecostal pastor Mike Davis was unimpressed and advised that "she go to another church." And Boschman's retort? Maybe I will, because "I just think that this is a fairly scary precedent."

... .Huh?

En 1766, François Jean de La Barre est décapité et brûlé pour ne pas avoir salué une procession religieuse à Abbeville. [For the anglos, it goes something like this: In 1766, François Jean de La Barre was beheaded and burnt for not saluting a religious procession in Abbeville.]

How's THAT for a scary precedent? Or THIS? How about THIS?

Welcome to the real world lady.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Something To Drink With Those Toxins?

Both Coke and Pepsi...

are under fire in India after a recent report released by a respected environmental group revealed that the colas marketed in India contain dangerous pesticides, sometimes at alarmingly high levels.

Naturally, the Bush Administration... is acting as the muscle.

[Update August 23: India rejects cola health fears. India's health ministry has rejected the findings of an environmental group which has reported high levels of pesticides in Coca Cola and Pepsi.]

Devil... Or The Deep Blue Sea?

If Catholic bishops in Africa must warn their

...priests to stop moonlighting as witchdoctors, fortune tellers and traditional healers, and to rely on Christ for miracles...

...then what are people supposed to make of oil companies that claim their corroded pipelines are an "act of God" and not their own negligence?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Stranger Than Fiction

I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.
-Albert Camus

The American president has decided to ingest a little Camusian wisdom in the form of his seminal fiction, "The Stranger." Evidently he didn't read it soon enough. Meursault did not receive a pardon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We're #1. You're #...

Nobody wants to be numero uno more than the good old U. S. of A. But according to one report...

The idea that protecting kids from rejection is crucial to safeguarding their self-esteem has gained momentum in recent years. Take Valentine's Day: At some schools, a second-grader can't offer paper valentines or heart-shaped candies to a short list of pals and secret crushes anymore. They give cards to everyone or no one at all.

Or sports: In many towns, scorekeeping no longer happens at soccer or softball games played by kids under 8 or 9. Win or lose, every player in the league gets a trophy at the season's end.

How is anybody supposed to know for sure if they're number one when nobody's keeping score? Bizarro world...

More Mediterranean Madness


As if there wasn't enough going on around the Mediterranean already, now jellyfish are swarming beaches from Spain to Sicily to North Africa and "researchers say at least 30,000 people have been stung since summer began.... A recent survey by the Oceana environmental group found concentrations of jellyfish of more than 10 per square metre in some areas off the Spanish coast."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Islamic Logic?

Last week the UK Guardian published a story advising British universities to shape up. It's entitled "Revise attitude to female Muslim students, universities told," so it's not a leap to pick out the logic being employed.

"Universities must undergo a radical rethink in their attitudes to Muslim women if they are to become fully inclusive and supportive environments," begins the article. After interviewing only 93 Muslim women, David Tyrer (Liverpool John Moores University) and Fauzia Ahmad (University of Bristol)...

...say their findings challenge the dominant stereotypes of Muslim women. Rather than feeling torn between two cultures or oppressed by family expectations or tradition, it is the institutions themselves that are putting obstacles in the way of Muslim women's development.

Oh yeah, and what might those be -- the theory of evolution? Thank Osiris it's nothing as radical as that. The article continues:

They found that some Muslim women [in other words, fewer than the 93 they started with] said that they felt discriminated against even on ethnic monitoring forms and said universities should review the categories used. Latifa, a 20-year-old student of Arab and Islamic studies who comes from a Moroccan-English background, said in her experience that university ethnic monitoring forms never had a box for "Arab".

Strike one for the defenders of hijab. This discriminatory practice is a non sequitur since anybody who's done a little research knows that most Muslims are not Arabic! This is a favourite tactic frequently employed by political Islam: blurring the distinction between race and religion. The article then goes on to Yasmin,

...a 24-year-old student of sociology and public policy management, told the researchers: "Early lectures and late lectures were very hard for me because I feel I have to think of my own security and my own safety, and there is a high risk of me being attacked and I face verbal abuse every day." She attributed the abuse to "looking like a Muslim".

Although I wholeheartedly support a women's right to feel safe in her own skin (up to and including kicking the shit out of or macing would-be assailants, for example), didn't Yasmin's concern strike old David and Fauzia as at all odd? You see, as devout Muslims will tell you, they are expected to follow the Koran, which not only allows but in fact encourages a man to beat his wives. Then there's the not insignificant matter of other Koranic ordinances which not only allow but in fact encourage Muslims to kill their neighbours if those neighbours are infidels. And since when does the safety of "moderate" Muslims count for more than the safety of "moderate" non-Muslims? That's strike two on the hijab defenders.

The conclusion of the article is especially insulting to anybody who is serious about women's rights:

They also complained of a lack of provision for halal food...and prayer facilities falling short of women student's needs. [Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't women forbidden from even sitting with men in a mosque? So what kinds of standards could they realistically be accustomed to?] Even where there is space for prayer, female students sometimes miss out because there is no space for them to pray separately from men, the research found. [Oh, there it is.] Maintenance and cleaning of the prayer room is also reported as being left to the students, and facilities for pre-prayer washing - wudhu - are often restricted to the institutions' normal toilets, a practice that was felt to be undignified. [In other words, we Muslims are clean and the rest of you are pigs (nice pun, eh?), and it doesn't matter that your filthy infidel hands don't ever touch our prayer space because we are responsible for cleaning it up -- it's all YOUR fault that OUR religion is incompatible with YOUR secular institution.] The researchers concluded: "It is vital therefore, that institutional factors and culturalist explanations that serve to construct Muslim women in particular ways and reinforce racism and sexism in both education and the labour market, continue to be challenged."

Is there today another religious ideology more sexist, less inclined to compromise on cultural explanations or more inclined to foment cultural divisions, based on the entire argument of the religion "construct," than Islam (or, whenever that's too difficult, to pull them out of thin air as they did when they invented the term "Islamaphobia")?

That's strike three.
So how about letting the freethinkers have a crack at building a saner, more humane world while you folks run off to your prayers?

Iran Vs. US

Iranians poured into the streets to show their solidarity with the families of the victims of the terrorist attack at America.

It's interesting how the Iranian government's vitriol is regularly reported in the news, while the opinions of everyday Iranians don't seem to count for anything, not in their own country nor in the West, as our profound ignorance in regards to their lives, their struggles, their hopes and fears demonstrates all too well. Iran executed 94 people in 2005. Alarmingly, the execution of women and children is justified by a warped sense of equity, one that deems them deserving of a punishment ostensibly meant to rid societies of their most dangerous citizens. (Here, here, here.)

Nobody in the media seems at all concerned with the plight of Ashraf Kalhori, for example. Kalhori is a 37-year-old mother of four who has been sentenced to death for having an extra-marital affair. She is awaiting a ruling on whether or not she is to be stoned to death for her indiscretion. Her lawyer Shadi Sadr has posted a letter that reads, in part:

As an Iranian lawyer and a human rights defender, I am writing to you to ask you to help me save the life of a woman sentenced to death by stoning! Asharf Kalhori, who is currently in Evin prison in Tehran, is scheduled to be stoned to death by the end of July 2006 for the crime of having "sex".

I am voluntarily representing Ashraf, the mother of four children of ages 9 to 19 to save her from stoning. She had an extramarital affair because she never loved her husband, but her request for divorce had been rejected by the court based on the fact that she had children and, therefore, had to resume living with her husband. Therefore, some women whose divorce requests are denied opt for extramarital affairs.

If you believe that stoning is not an appropriate punishment for a woman having sex with a man other than her husband, if you believe that having sex is not a crime and does not turn a person into a criminal, and if you believe that Ahsraf Kalhori does not deserve to die for having had sex, then please express your opposition to stoning.

In this world too many ordinary citizens like Ashraf Kalhori are silenced by dictatorial tyrants. It is therefore high time those of us in the West, where we still possess a modicum of freedom to hurl our opinions and objections at govenments and more especially at religious zealots, to make some small effort to improve this draconian situation. Most (if not all) of the Iranians I've met have said that the large majority of the country is in fact opposed to the ruling religious junta, but that this opposition only results in more arbitrary detentions, police beatings and sometimes execution. The least we can do is sign the petition Mr. Sadr is presenting to the Judiciary Chief of Iran to spare Mrs. Kalhori's life. People are people. Still.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Frontline Feministas

Katia Nasser is originally from southern Lebanon

Whether it's the front lines in Crawford, Texas or the war zone that is the border between Israel and Lebanon, the antiquated notion that women need to be protected from the horrors of war and politics is slowly melting away. Let's hope they offer a different brand of sanity than the fellas.

Speaking from Aljazeera's office in Beirut, Katia Nasser, whose name and face became familiar among Arab audiences in a matter of days said: "I volunteered to go to south Lebanon, although I usually work in the newsroom in Doha. The management did not discourage me from going for being a woman."

The Crawford Crapper

From the desk of war resister Cindy Sheehan, George W. Bush's new neighbour:

Right-wing people who support the killing of innocent men, women, and children, are trying to stir up crap about my land purchase in Crawford, TX to run Camp Casey. The worst thing that I have heard a Crawford resident say is that I am a "dumb Democrat." The crap that NEEDS to be stirred up in Crawford is that George and Co. have the nerve to go on vacation when our soldiers can't get home after serving in the vile mess that BushCo created.... Recent polls showed that 72% or our troops wanted to start coming home by the end of this year and 83% of the Iraqi people want the occupation to end. Those numbers are significant if only for the fact that they are probably low---soldiers and occupied peoples have never felt at liberty, or even secure to share their feelings with the oppressors.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Life In The Sunshine State

Florida has to be one of the funniest stories that comes in the form of a state. You can't "cohabitate" with your girlfriend (or your boyfriend), voting for the president is arbitrary, but you get to keep your driver's license -- with photo! -- for 18 years?! So how does this affect law enforcement?

Dated photos would seem to create problems for law enforcement, but Holly Hill Police Cmdr. Mark Barker said police don't rely "exclusively" on the driver's license photos for identification purposes.

Makes you wonder why the rest of us bother, doesn't it?