Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Toro Toro Toro

So, you wanted to see a bull fight?

Mexico City - Seven people were injured when a huge bull named Little Bird jumped into the stands at Mexico City's largest bullring and charged terrified spectators, medical officials said.

Little Bird had just entered the ring on Sunday when it made a spectacular jump into the stands - right where the most expensive ticketholders sat.

Video footage of the incident shows the bull, which weighed 503kg, rampaging through the seats as spectators scramble in all directions.

No bullring official remembers hearing of a bull that jumped into the viewer stands.

Five of those injured are bruised, bullring medical director Rafael Velazquez told local media. Two others - a man with an injured hip and a woman with an injury in her lower stomach - have been taken to hospital, Velazquez said.

And four others have been treated for nervous crisis, Velazquez said.

News to France

Incentives influence behavior:

PARIS, Jan 31, 2006 (AFP) - The number of people unemployed in France fell sharply in December, and by 5.2 percent in the whole of 2005 cutting the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 9.5 percent, official data showed on Tuesday.

In December alone, the number of people unemployed fell by 19,300, a reduction of 0.8 percent from the December figure and, more remarkable, for the ninth month in a row.

And what might have been responsible for the drop:

Early last year, the government took the highly controversial route of relaxing complex legislation to protect people in work.

The aim was to encourage small businesses to employ people temporarily without being bound to employ them permanently, and to help the young unemployed to find work for up to two years.

At the beginning of 2005, the number of people registered as unemployed had risen to 10.2 percent in March. The trend changed modestly in April and then decisively.

Monday, January 30, 2006

No sex please...

we're politicians:

Rome, January 30 - Italy is chuckling at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's latest election stunt, a vow of chastity. The press is having a field day with the pledge, claiming it as evidence that the fun-loving premier will stop at nothing in his single-handed effort to overtake his centre-left opponents by election day on April 9 .

Monday's Corriere della Sera said "Berlusconi has introduced a new game into his one-man reality show, the Berlusconi Chastity Countdown" ."

....Corriere noted that the no-sex pledge came after a midweek radio interview in which the premier was asked whether he had been faithful to his wives ."Frequently," he quipped in reply .

Berlusconi has been married for 16 years to former film starlet Veronica Lario, 48, whose main claim to fame before her marriage was a scantily clad appearance in a cult film by Italian goremeister Dario Argento .

Lario has given the premier three school-age children while his first wife, Carla Dall'Oglio, produced two scions who have been groomed to take over his media empire .

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Wrestling With Your Conscience

Professionally. It's the UCW:

Like many American preachers, Rob Adonis delivers his sermons bathed in sweat, passion and a spotlight. He is, however, probably the only one who spreads the word while wearing a purple leotard decked out with Spandex crosses. As the 300lb, 6ft 4in professional wrestler puts it, he "wrestles for the Word".

Ultimate Christian Wrestling, the ministry he founded in 2003, tours churches and venues around the South, in what is - even by the Bible Belt's standards - an unorthodox drive to win converts.

Its matches feature traditional pro-wrestling moves such as headlocks and body slams, coupled with themes and stories from the Bible. Its mission is to "minister the Gospel of Christ to the Lost and to see lost souls saved".

Despite fierce competition from traditional churches, it has taken off in the Southern states where pro-wrestling is popular entertainment and the battle for believers' souls shows no signs of letting up.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Swift Boat Vet for Torpedoing Hillary?

Jim Rassmann, last seen foundering with the Kerry 2004 campaign, isn't finished whining:

PORTLAND — Sen. Hillary Clinton's fundraising trip to Portland today is under fire from some Democratic veterans, who say she is siphoning away money that could go to local candidates.

The group, which includes Jim Rassmann, the Florence, Ore., veteran who hit the campaign trail with John Kerry in 2004 to speak about how Kerry saved his life in Vietnam, have issued a letter denouncing the former first lady's support for the Iraq war.

"As Oregon veterans and members of military families," the letter says, "we are concerned with your fundraising trip to Oregon on two counts: your strong support for the immoral war in Iraq and your plan to take Oregon donations that are needed elsewhere."

Oregon Democratic Chairman Jim Edmunson acknowledged that the event will suck up money that could have gone to local candidates, and said the state party tried without success to arrange a joint fundraiser that would benefit both Clinton and Oregon Democratic candidates.

Rain on Hawk Parade

NFC Champion Seattle has a few people yet to be convinced:

Drowned out by the incessant yammering about the Seahawks in the Super Bowl are those who opposed building Qwest Field with taxpayer subsidy, and others who are outraged by a region going gaga over a bunch of big boys in pads.

"I'm disgusted," said Marietta Alexander of Everett, who wrote a letter to The Seattle Times that was published Saturday before the NFC Championship. In it, she wrote: "I hope the team loses and loses big! I hope all the sports teams decide to move to Outer Mongolia and people get serious!"

The Seahawks' victory failed to convert her.

"I don't worship people; I worship the Lord," said Alexander, a substitute teacher. "It's gone beyond reason. People are outfitting themselves like freaks and spending thousands of dollars that they probably don't have to go to Detroit. All that money could have been given to the homeless and the poor.

"They aren't thinking about the fact that one day they are going to have to stand before God and account to Him what they did with their time and money."

She plans to nap during the Super Bowl — assuming her family, which will be watching the game, doesn't wake her.

Be a Clown. Earn Big $ Working in Homes.

James Lileks slyly links to a story of an annual six figure earning children's birthday party entertainer that takes some unusual twists:

The Great Zucchini arrived early, as he is apt to do, and began to make demands, as is his custom. He was too warm, so he wanted the thermostat adjusted. It was. He declared the basement family room adequate for his needs, but there was a problem with the room next door. Something had to be done about it.

The room next door was emblematic of the extraordinary life and times of the Great Zucchini, Washington's No. 1 preschool entertainer.

Read on for the connection to sex, gambling and Jim Jones Guyanna.

Scary guys with nukes

Make even the land of Hitler nervous:

A former defence minister has provoked outrage and broken a major taboo by suggesting that Germany should have its own nuclear arsenal.

Rupert Scholz argued that Berlin needed to embrace the idea of a nuclear deterrent in the light of threats from terrorists and the Middle East.

"We need to ask ourselves how we could react in an appropriate manner to a nuclear threat from a terror state, and if needs be, even by using our own nuclear weapons," he said.

Mr Scholz, 68, who was the defence minister in Helmut Kohl's government in 1988 and 1989, said he doubted whether other nations' guarantees, made during the Cold War, to keep Germany safe in the face of a nuclear threat, could still be trusted.

"Without the appropriate guarantees of protection by our partners, the question of our own nuclear deterrent needs to be discussed openly," he said.

"I am aware that I am addressing a taboo. But in the light of the dangers that weapons of mass destruction could end up in the hands of terrorists, this is a question which deserves serious debate."

He forgot to add, 'Especially since we're committed to annoying the one country that could provide that guarantee'.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This Year's Chic Socialist Resort...

is Venezuela:

The government of President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, the FTAA and "neo-liberalism", regularly invites like-minded guests from overseas.

The American singer and civil rights campaigner, Harry Belafonte, is a regular visitor to Venezuela, as is the US actor and racial equality campaigner, Danny Glover.

...."It's my third time in Caracas within the space of two years," said Kate Fox, a 21-year-old anti-globalisation activist who has travelled from Washington DC.

"Venezuela is without a doubt the new Mecca of the Left. It used be Havana, but Venezuela is definitely the place to hang out now if you're against capitalist exploitation."

However, street sellers in downtown Caracas have also realised the potential of exploiting the huge market for left-wing souvenirs.

Many of them have switched from selling pirated DVDs and CDs to T-shirts showing the face of President Chavez or old classics like Che Guevara.

...."The Chavez T-shirt is my bestseller," says Luz Castillo, who owns a little stall next to the conference centre for the Caracas World Social Forum. "I've sold six shirts within the space of an hour. I'm making a profit of $7 per item."

Hugo Chavez T-shirts are a hot fashion item at the forum

Other street vendors are selling Chavez posters, watches, books, flags, audio tapes and even toy plastic dolls of Venezuela's charismatic leader.

"Chavez is cool," said Alejandro Montoya, a student from Peru, who explained that he had paid $1,500 for a tailor-made tourist package to take part in the Social Forum.

"Is it a lot of money? Yes, of course, but just remember it's a chance in a lifetime for me to come face to face with my hero, Comandante Chavez."

If you can get to him from the airport, that is.

Loonie Idea?

Economics bashers who claim it isn't a real science like biology, will be distressed to hear that money may be the root of all epidemics. (Though, shouldn't they be using Canadian currency?)

Tracking the movements of hundreds of thousands of banknotes across the US could provide scientists with a vital new tool to help combat the spread of deadly infectious diseases like bird flu.

Modern transport has transformed the speed at which epidemics can spread, enabling disease to rip through populations and leap across continents at frightening speed.

However, scientists possess few mathematical models to help them understand these movements and how this might govern the global spread of disease. To a large degree, this is because tracking the movements of so many people over such a large area is next to impossible.

But now physicists from the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, and the University of Santa Barbara, California, US, have developed a model to explain these movements, based on the tracked movements of US banknotes.

Dirk Brockmann and colleagues used an online project called www.wheresgeorge.com (George Washington's image is on the $1 bill) to track the movements of dollar bills by serial number. Visitors to the site enter the serial number of banknotes in their possession and can see where else the note may have been.

The team tracked 464,670 dollar bills across the US using 1,033,095 individual reports. The fact the notes are carried by people suggests it is a good way of modelling other things that people may carry, including disease.

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Vlad the Impassive has a challenger:

Wanted Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has gone public with his plans to seize power in Russia by force. The London-based oligarch said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station Wednesday that he had been working on the coup plan for 18 months. Berezovsky, a notorious critic of Putin’s regime, said he aimed to replace the “anti-constitutional regime” in Russia.

....Today’s regime would never allow a fair election, Berezovsky added, so the only way out is a coup.

“There is only one way out — a coup, a forced seizure of power,” he said.

....“Every day I talk to lots of people who are certain the existing regime should be changed, and see there is no chance of this happening legally, by an election.”

....The businessman is going to fund the coup with his own money, earned by honest labor, he said.

He was also deliberately making his intentions public, he added.

“It is vital that the Russian people realized just talking was not enough, that it is time for action.”

As for personal security, Berezovsky said, he did not feel he was in any danger.

“My security is guaranteed by the state I live in. The UK takes care of all its residents, including the immigrants.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Free Marketeer Passes Away

Perhaps the most successful government financial operative in history has died:

John James Cowperthwaite was born on April 25 1915 and educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. He went on to study Economics at St Andrews University and Christ's College, Cambridge, before joining the Colonial Administrative service in Hong Kong in 1941. During the Japanese occupation he was seconded to Sierra Leone.

Returning to Hong Kong in 1945, he was asked to find ways in which the government could boost post-war economic revival; but he found the economy recovering swiftly without intervention, and took the lesson to heart.

The lesson being, if it isn't broken don't attempt to fix it:

Cowperthwaite himself called his approach "positive non-intervention". Personal taxes were kept at a maximum of 15 per cent; government borrowing was wholly unacceptable; there were no tariffs or subsidies. Red tape was so reduced that a new company could be registered with a one-page form.

Cowperthwaite believed that government should concern itself with only minimal intervention on behalf of the most needy, and should not interfere in business. In his first budget speech he said: "In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralised decisions of a government, and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster."

From 1961 to 1971 Cowperthwaite exercised almost complete control of the colony's finances under successive governors, Sir Robert Black and Sir David Trench, who were sympathetic to his philosophy and content to give him his head. Among his peers in the Hong Kong government, it was said that only Claude Burgess, the colonial secretary, could keep him in line. "His brilliance and argumentation prevailed, and he thus made policy by ruling on all items of expenditure," said one colleague. But Cowperthwaite summed up his part in the colony's success over the decade with some modesty: "I did very little. All I did was to try to prevent some of the things that might undo it."

The measure of that success was a 50 per cent rise in real wages, and a two-thirds fall in the number of households in acute poverty. Exports rose by 14 per cent a year, as Hong Kong evolved from a trading post to a major regional hub and manufacturing base.

16 hour days for the teachers?

The FLUBA Committee on Being Careful for What You Wish With Your False Analogy has been expecting this:

Consider what might be the difference if Washington were to undertake a long-term effort to make its education system as good as the Seahawks. We try, of course. But year after year, the state as a whole is among the also-rans in providing for and getting results from our schools and colleges. In a legislative hearing Monday, Boeing's Bob Watt said the state "needs a 12th man for children." As the Seahawks turn their attention to winning one more for the team, we might think about how we could use the lift they've given us to inspire shared efforts for the community.

Ah yes, let's treat education as a competitive activity. Complete with firing those employees who don't get the job done, because the customers can avoid paying for those expensive seats if the value isn't up to the pricing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Be SEEIN' Ya, Kids

But not hearing you play, in Belgium:

A group of disgruntled neighbours won a Kortrijk Court ruling on 10 January, banning the Flemish city of Menen from allowing playground activities organised by the youth centre Hoeve Delaere in the city district of Lauwe.

The court based its ruling on the fact the playground is situated in a residential area and banned all organised activities from taking place there during school holidays.

....After the Kortrijk Court ruling was made public this week, Flemish Youth Minister Bert Anciaux angrily warned that "if you equate playground activities to neighbourhood nuisance that is the end of society".

Anciaux said he will pursue legislative change to remove child activities from strict noise pollution environmental laws.

Not on our beach, you won't

Negative energy remains in South Africa:

About 1 500 spectators were disappointed when police snuffed out a weekly performance of fire dancers and drummers on Second Beach, Clifton, on Monday night.

Among those who were refused permission to fire-spin was model Tanit Phoenix.Phoenix said: "My dad taught me and it is such a wonderful way to release negative energy." She said "about 30 cops" had arrived on Monday night and threatened to arrest anybody with an open flame.

Jon-Peer Bouwer, director of Firetribe, which organises the event, said the group had been gathering since 2001 and had received no objections.

But on Monday night a resident had complained.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Pay to Pray?

In the beginning there was the word. Then came the copyright battle:

ROME: A row has broken out over whether the speeches and writings of Pope Benedict XVI should be freely available to everyone or be subject to copyright.

The dispute was prompted by revelations that a publishing house in Milan had to pay €15,000 ($24,000) to reprint 30 lines from the first speech by the Pope after his election in April after the Vatican transferred copyright on papal texts to its own publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The Vatican also plans to charge rights on any papal texts of the past 50 years.

Getting to know you

Know all about you Dutch:

AMSTERDAM – Migrants who want to come to the Netherlands will from March be obliged to take an inburgering (acclimatization) test in the country they are applying from.

....By setting out clear guidelines for would be migrants (joining families or coming for marriage, for instance), it is hoped the compulsory test will force migrants to be better prepared for life in Dutch society before they arrive.

Candidates must take the exam – in Dutch - at an embassy or
consulate. It will test their knowledge of the language and culture and be taken over the phone, verbally, using a PC with speech recognition software.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Going My Way?

Blarney apparently has its charms:

At least 500 women in Ireland are conducting clandestine affairs with Roman Catholic priests, according to the leader of a support group set up to look after those in forbidden relationships.

Bishop Pat Buckley said an extremely conservative estimate was that one in 10 of the 5,000 Catholic priests in Ireland enjoyed regular sex with women and some even referred to their clerical collar as the "bird catcher".

....Bishop Buckley runs the Bethany organisation in Larne, Co Antrim, which he set up to provide support to those in love affairs with the clergy.

....Counselling sessions organised by Bethany have disclosed that several women were unwittingly having sex with the same priest.

....Romances between an understanding man of God and an unloved wife were commonplace, as were priests and their housekeepers secretly living together as man and wife while relationships between priests and nuns were unofficially known as the "third way" by the church.

...."Some priests are in the Jack the lad mould and have several relationships in various parishes. I have heard priests refer to their clerical collar as the bird catcher," Bishop Buckley said.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland declined to comment on Bishop Buckley's claims.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Leprechaun Dust?

Not from a Bing Crosby movie, this Dublin priest:

A 73-year-old Roman Catholic priest was in hiding last night after it was disclosed that he had a child by his 31-year-old mistress.

Fr Maurice "Mossy" Dillane, described as youthful, with a golf handicap of six, was a popular priest admired for his charisma, community work and liberal views.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Too Late for a Truce?

Several top Al Qaeda leaders killed by a Predator drone missile in the village of Bajaur, and now Pakistan newspapers report a dozen foreign' terrorists are captured 60 miles away in Swat:

PESHAWAR - Around one dozen alleged terrorists have been apprehended by the personnel of secret agencies from different parts of the Swat district on the mid-night between Wednesday and Thursday.

“The arrested persons included several foreign nationals,” told a high-ranking official source. He said the joint operation was carried out by various secret agencies engaged in war on terror with the help of Swat police, adding that operation is still going on.

According to sources the arrested persons having links with the alleged terrorist groups and their leaders. A number of foreign passports, important documents and computer CDs have been recovered from the possession of the arrested people.

....Though the authorities have confirmed links of the arrested persons with a number of alleged terrorist groups but they have yet to confirm their links with those alleged foreigners who were killed in the recent US strikes in Bajaur Agency.

The distance between Swat and Bajaur is around 90 kilometers.

Viande Morte

If it stops hopping, the French will do what comes naturally:

An Australian wallaby, or small kangaroo, that had been on the hop in southwest France since escaping its owner three months ago is headed for the stewpot after being found dead.

Bernadette Darchen, the retired French zoology professor who had been keeping the 70-centimetre high macropod on her property in the Dordogne region, said the fugitive animal was killed by a car.

"You have to stay pragmatic. Rather than burying it, we're going to eat it. It's good meat," she said after recovering the corpse and cutting it up.

"I'm going to make a sort of stew," she said.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Who does he like for the Super Bowl?

Selling suds in Eastern Europe:

VILNIUS - The Lithuanian Catholic Church has expressed surprise and anger over the casual use of religious symbols in advertisements.

Bishops of the church were especially alarmed by an image of Jesus with a DJ’s headpiece in a Kalnapilis-Tauras Group brewery advertisement, currently running in the press and on television.

Kaunas archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, who leads the Lithuanian Conference of Bishops, addressed brewers: “Most believers are hurt and indignant over the use of the image of the Savior in beer ads.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

All in the Family

One of the lawsuits filed against the NSA surveillance was by Rachel Meeropol. The granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg:

In its suit in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights maintained its work was directly affected by the surveillance because its lawyers represent a potential class of hundreds of Muslim foreign nationals detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It said its attorney-client privilege was likely violated as it represented hundreds of men detained without charge as enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and a Canadian citizen who was picked up at a New York airport while changing planes, sent to Syria and tortured and detained without charges for nearly a year.

The group said the surveillance program has inhibited its ability to represent clients vigorously, making it hard to communicate via telephone and e-mail with overseas clients, witnesses and others for fear the conversations would be overheard.

Plaintiff Rachel Meeropol, an attorney at the center, said she believes she has been targeted. "I'm personally outraged that my confidential communication with my clients may have been listened to by the U.S. government," she said.

We hope Al Gore enjoys the company he keeps.

Unbalanced Norwegian shuns Letterman

Killing Al Qaeda terrorists has its price...for David Letterman's audience:

Eskil Rønningsbakken, originally from Stange in Hedmark County, was supposed to perform one of his balancing stunts atop the New York skyscraper from which the "Late Show with David Letterman" is broadcast by the CBS network.

He was due to be interviewed by Letterman after the stunt, but he told local newspaper Hamar Arbeiderblad on Tuesday that he's broken his contract with CBS.

"This has its background in the USA's last bombing attack on Pakistan," Rønningsbakken told the newspaper, according to news burean NTB.

"After Friday's (bombing), it's not of interest to contribute anything at all to a country like the USA," Rønningsbakken said.

That was then

This is now:

The president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently," [Al] Gore said in a speech at Constitution Hall in Washington. "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."

But as Vice-President he sang a different tune:

My counsel advises me that there is no controlling, legal authority....

And my counsel advises me, let me repeat, that there is no controlling legal authority that says that any of these activities violated any law.

....My counsel tells me there is no controlling legal authority that says was any violation of any law.

.... there is no controlling legal authority, no case ever brought, ever decided that says that is a violation of law.

....And again, I am advised that there is no controlling legal authority that says this was in violation of law.

....In reviewing the matter, my counsel advises me there's no case. There's no controlling legal authority that says that violate the law.

....I'm advised that it is -- that there is no case or no controlling legal authority that says it is a violation of the law.

You talk too much

You even worry my pet:

At first, 30-year-old Mr Taylor was amused when Ziggy started screeching "Hiya, Gary" everytime it heard Miss Collins's mobile phone ring.

He even saw the funny side when the parrot began making kissing noises when the same name was mentioned on television or radio.

But the truth finally dawned as the couple snuggled alongside one another on the sofa and Ziggy blurted out, "I love you, Gary" in her voice.

Miss Collins, 25, a call centre worker, broke down in tears and confessed to having a four-month fling with a former colleague.

Her confession not only ended their two-year relationship but also led Mr Taylor to parting with his pet because it kept repeating the offending name.

He said yesterday: "I wasn't sorry to see the back of Suzy after what she did but it really broke my heart to let Ziggy go. It was torture hearing him repeat that name over and over again.

"It feels like someone's got it in for me because I've lost my girlfriend and my best mate at the same time. He never liked Suzy and she never took to him.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Beats R Us

Holy Maynard G Krebs! Stream of Typwriting Lit tries to go mainstream:

A museum dedicated to literary giants of the Beat generation has opened in the San Francisco neighbourhood where the movement took off 50 years ago.

Manuscripts, letters and first editions from Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are among the items on display.

A rare copy of Ginsberg's poem Howl, which is said to have ignited the Beat movement, is also housed in the museum.

The literary style is thought to have influenced the counterculture which prevailed in the 1960s.

....The opening ceremony was dedicated to Carolyn Cassady, the widow of Neal Cassady, whose travels with Kerouac were the inspiration for On The Road.


On MLK Jr. day, we review civil rights (and wrongs) :

BERLIN -- Life was just starting to look up for 23-year-old Hatun Surucu when the bullets cut her down.

After four years of grueling courses in vocational school, coupled with the demands of single motherhood, she was only weeks away from receiving certification as an electrician, a trade that would give her the independence she desperately craved.

It had been a rough road: Eight years earlier, her parents, Turkish immigrants, had yanked Surucu from eighth grade, bundled her off to Istanbul, and forced her to marry an older cousin. Miserable in Turkey, she had fled her husband and returned to Berlin with her infant son, determined to make her own way as a modern woman in a secular society, according to friends.

For a Muslim barely out of girlhood, it was an act of extraordinary defiance against her family. And it cost Surucu her life.

As Europe's Muslims become increasingly conservative, growing numbers of women are being killed or mutilated in the name of ''family honor," according to law enforcement agencies, women's activist groups, and moderate Islamic organizations. These cases usually involve an attack on a Muslim woman by a close relative -- typically a brother or father -- angered by her refusal to accept a forced marriage or her insistence on leading a Western-style life.

There were at least eight such slayings in Berlin alone in 2005, and 47 honor killings of Muslim women across Germany in the past six years....

And probably will be followed by more, judging by this, later in the article:

The rise of fundamentalism among Muslims in Europe can be blamed, at least partially, on the failure of countries to integrate the millions of Muslims who started arriving in large numbers in the 1960s. Two generations later, most lead lives largely segregated from the mainstream.

''It's been taboo to discuss integration. It offends those who say every expression of cultural difference is somehow wonderful," said Heinz Buschkowsky, mayor of the Berlin borough of Neukoelln, where more than a third of the residents are Arabs and Turks.

''But now, with culture being expressed by covering women's faces or killing a girl who refuses to marry some old man in the home village, perhaps it is time to break the taboo."

In Neukoelln's largely immigrant Thomas Morus school, not far from the place where Hatun Surucu was murdered, students greeted news of her slaying with loud approval. Her brothers were hailed as local heroes.

The principal, Volker Steffans, was so disgusted by the display that he sent a letter to parents, to be read and signed, explaining what he had always regarded as obvious -- that girls should not be harassed for refusing to wear head scarves; that girls should not be attacked for wanting to pursue careers; that women should not be murdered for expecting tolerance and equality in a Western society.

''A murder happened nearby; a young woman was killed. She died because she wanted to live freely," Steffans said. ''But we are shocked by the fact that students approve of this murder and say [Surucu] deserved to die because she 'lived like a German.' "

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Beggaring Their Neighbors

In fashionable Ashland Oregon, it's a lifestyle:

A couple with three children who make a living as panhandlers say they are surprised by public attention to their lifestyle.

Jason Pancoast and Elizabeth Johnson, who describe themselves as "affluent beggars," say they are able to maintain a well-fed and well-dressed family by living off the streets.

"What has happened is that we're going along with a lifestyle that you couldn't imagine we should have," Pancoast said.

A story in the Sunday edition of the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford noted the couple sometimes make up to $300 a day and once made $800.

But the report also triggered an outcry from residents. People have yelled at Pancoast and threatened him since the story was published, he said.

Angry e-mails and letters to the Mail Tribune have described the couple as tax evaders, bad role models for their children, "common thieves" and abusers of a food-stamp program designed to help people temporarily down on their luck. Pancoast and Johnson said they receive $500 a month in food stamps.

Local radio talk shows have spent airtime taking calls about Pancoast, 34, and Johnson, 30. The couple appeared this week on a Portland radio show, and national media also have expressed interest in interviewing them.

The couple say they use their money to get a safe place for their children to sleep, a warm meal and good clothes.

"We're challenging the stereotype of being a beggar," Johnson said.

Friday, January 13, 2006

C'est la vie politique

In France, politics resembles soap opera:

THE race for the French presidency took a dramatic turn yesterday when the man most likely to succeed Jacques Chirac, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, publicly reunited with his straying wife.

Mr Sarkozy's success in "reconquering" Cecilia Sarkozy, 48, his glamorous former political adviser who left her lover to return to the marital home, will boost his electoral chances in a macho country that prefers its presidents to have a devoted first lady in tow.

The surprise reunion between the Bill and Hillary Clinton of French politics was played out in view of TV cameras on the terrace of Paris's most popular political and media haunt, L'Esplanade, as the tempestuous couple shared a highly staged post-lunch coffee.

Meanwhile, the colourful details of the reconciliation were breathlessly recounted in the French press by a family friend.

MP Patrick Balkany outlined how the Interior Minister met his errant wife in a limousine on the tarmac of Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport - while her lover remained on board.

Either soap opera, or a famous episode of the Bob Newhart Show.

Always read to the end...

...of a Telegraph obit. Especially one that begins:

Lieutenant-Commander Victor Clark, who has died aged 97, played a dashing role in the defence of Singapore as the Japanese closed in on the British garrison in 1941.

Goes on to detail wartime exploits:

Gloomily studying maps showing the enemy's advance, he and Major Angus Rose of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders proposed commando raids behind enemy lines.

Within a week, Clark was commanding the Straits Steamship Company's Kudat as well as a flotilla of gunboats, with 40 Royal Marines and 50 Australian volunteers. In their joint Boxing Day raid at Temerloh, on the west coast, Rose ambushed and destroyed a Japanese column, including a staff car containing a general.

Six days later Kudat was sunk, and with his remaining motor launches under mortar fire, Clark moved south to Batu Pahat.

There he volunteered to take the river gunboats Dragonfly and Scorpion to rescue 2,000 Australian, British and Indian troops who were cut off at a swampy inlet overlooked by the encircling Japanese.

For four nights Clark swam and waded to lead his men in hauling native craft through the mud to bring the exhausted soldiers out to waiting ships.

Lt-Gen Arthur Percival, GOC Singapore, described Clark's feat as "a most difficult operation reflecting the greatest credit on the Royal Navy", but one of Dragonfly's seamen was overheard to say, "Too bloody brave for my liking!"

Moves on to his colorful post-war seafaring career:

...he spent five years as chief training officer to the Sea Cadets, all the while reading and planning a circumnavigation, then bought the nine-ton ketch Solace through Captain OM Watts's chandlery in Albemarle Street.

His 48,000-mile voyage between 1953 and 1959, with his West Indian crewman Stanley Mathurin, included nine months shipwrecked on the coral atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands in the empty Pacific.

Undaunted, and with the help of the descendants of William Marsters, a cooper who had colonised the atoll with his three Polynesian wives in the 19th century, Clark rebuilt his boat well enough to continue sailing her for the next 20 years.

Remarkable life, you say? A war hero who survived the sinking of several Royal Navy ships including The Repulse off Singapore, capture and imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp, and being marooned on a south Pacific island. Now appreciate the understated final paragraph:

Victor Clark, who died on December 14, married Danae Stileman when he was 67 and she 34: she survives him with their two daughters.

Si, no tenemos unos cafes hoy

Hugo Chavez, using the same economic techniques that would rid the Sahara of sand, engineers the end of the coffee break [thanks to the scrivener]:

President Hugo Chavez's policy of keeping a tight control on food retail prices while doubling the price of raw coffee beans back in December may have backfired.

For at least a week, there has been no roasted coffee available on the shelves of Venezuelan supermarkets as wholesalers and coffee producers have been withholding their coffee from sale.

Since 2003, President Chavez has maintained a strict price regime on some basic foods like coffee, beans, sugar and powdered milk.

But this measure designed to curb inflation has alienated Venezuela's coffee producers who say their profit margins have been reduced to nothing.

Coffee farmers have seen a 100% increase in the state-controlled price of raw coffee.

However, the government has so far been reluctant to increase retail prices to a level acceptable to coffee roasters and traders.

The reaction by coffee companies has been to hoard tens of thousands of tonnes of coffee in warehouses in the hope that the government would eventually announce fair prices.

"You can't blame us for keeping the coffee to ourselves for the moment," says Eduardo Bianco, a senior executive at Cafe Madrid, Venezuela's largest coffee producer.

"Would you sell your products on the open market if you were sure you were going to make a loss?"

Government minister and coffee executives have been locked in long talks to try to resolve the deadlock.

Maybe Chavez will emulate one of his admirers and give his country a malaise speech, rather than allow prices to find their own levels and actually solve the problem with a stroke of his pen.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Religion de Piedras

The annual stoning of the wall in Mecca claims more victims:

According to the Saudi interior ministry 345 people have been crushed to death during a stoning ritual on the final day of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Hundreds of people were killed as crowds tried to squeeze through the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge in Mena, a narrow valley outside the holy city.

....In the ritual, the faithful stand on the Jamarat Bridge and hurl stones at three thick walls in a symbolic rejection of temptation.

....Following a similar accident in 2004 when around 250 pilgrims were killed the Saudi government modernised the Jamarat area, expanding the stoning targets and providing 60,000 security men to control crowds.

After this year's pilgrimage, the Jamarat bridge will be replaced at a cost of more than a billion dollars. The new bridge will include a four-level system of entrances and exits to the three walls, as well as a subway.

Of course, they've tried modernizing before:

The Saudi interior ministry had promised a "special plan" to ensure a smooth flow of pilgrims towards the pillars.

Saudi troops patrolled the area, monitoring crowds, and helicopters flew overhead.
First aid crews and ambulances also gathered under the bridge to deal with those affected by the overcrowding or heat exhaustion.

"It was a piece of cake this year," Mecca native Sulayman Fallata told the AFP news agency.

Saudi Arabia has spent millions of dollars since 2004 to improve safety measures at Mina.
New footbridges with emergency exits were built and three new pillars were erected that were wider and taller than ones used previously, so more pilgrims could pelt rocks at the same time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Bridge...Not Far Enough

The US Coast Guard rescues Cubans from a bridge, and returns them to Castro:

A group of Cubans who reached a partly collapsed bridge in the Florida Keys in a homemade boat were sent back after the authorities ruled that the bridge did not constitute US soil.

Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans picked up on US territory are generally allowed to remain and apply for permanent residency. Those found at sea are repatriated.

When the 15 Cubans, including a two- and 13-year-old, made it from Matanzas to the Flagler bridge between Marathon and Pine Key after two days at sea, they thought they were home and dry.

They clambered out of their small boat, which then drifted away, and took refuge at the foot of one of the bridge supports, only 100ft from land.

The US coast guard found them and, after a legal review, determined the group was "feet wet" as the dilapidated bridge was no longer connected to any of the Florida Keys.

The Cubans were deported with 52 others picked up at sea.

But a woman who air-mailed it in, gets to stay:

A Cuban woman has won asylum in America by airmailing herself, a jug of water and a mobile phone to Miami from the Bahamas in a tiny wooden crate.

Astonished workers at a DHL warehouse at Miami airport opened the box on hearing noises from inside only for the unnamed stowaway to unfold herself and stretch after the ordeal.

The plywood crate, measuring 36in x 26in x 18in, had been dropped off at Nassau airport and spent only an hour in the air before landing in Miami.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Going Postal in Berkeley

Means being out to lunch:

The Adeline Street Post Office has two service windows, but only one window was being operated on Monday afternoon.

“It’s always this crowded,” a man standing in line offered. “They only have one clerk.”

Most of the patrons took the wait stoically, but one woman, after being served, stormed out saying, “This ain’t right. You know I ain’t got no patience for this.”

During the next half-hour, the clerk answered the phone and coordinated work with post office delivery workers while serving customers in the line.

At 10 minutes to 1 p.m., twenty-five minutes after the patron first got in line, with two people still ahead of him and seven or eight more now behind, the clerk called out to everyone in the lobby, “I’m going to have to make an announcement. I’m the only person working here. I have to close the window at 1 p.m. for lunch. I’ll be at lunch for an hour. I’ll try to get to everyone in line. I’m doing the best I can. I’m the only one here.”

At one minute to 1 p.m., with seven people still in line, the clerk announced she would be closing in a moment. There were groans and heads thrown back in disbelief by several of the remaining patrons.

It speaks to the level of economic ignorance--common in Berkeley in the FLUBA's experience--that the reporter can't hazard a guess as to why this situation has persisted over several years; i.e. the US Postal Service is a monopoly which has the legal right to exclude competitors.

....There was [a sign]. Placed at the service window, it read: “Dear Customers: Due to staffing, window services will close daily during the following hours for breaks & lunch. 1st Break 11-11:15 a.m. Lunch 1-2 p.m. 2nd Break 3-3:15 p.m.”

....At least one Adeline Street Post Office patron has taken it upon himself to change the situation. For several weeks, South Berkeley businessperson Jesse Palmer has been circulating a petition among the Adeline Street customers, calling for “adequate staffing levels” at the Adeline Post Office.

....In a letter attached to the petitions and mailed to U.S. Postmaster General John Jack Potter and the Berkeley Postmaster at the main post office on Allston Way last month, Palmer wrote that “the Postal Service has adequately staffed the post offices in wealthier areas. For instance, there are always plenty of clerks at the Claremont Post Office on College Avenue. It certainly appears that the postal service doesn’t care about patrons in our lower-income neighborhood.”

Palmer has yet to receive a response.

The one-person window staffing “has been going on at Adeline Street for years,” Palmer said in an interview. ....It seems like a simple matter to get adequate staffing. That’s not rocket science. ....”

Palmer said that he has met with Berkeley U. S. Postal Service Customer Service Coordinator Mercer W. Jones about the Adeline Street problem, but said that Jones “wasn’t very helpful. He suggested I do things like use the computer to conduct my mail business.”

Unlike in the United Kingdom, where he could simply take his business to a competitor.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Going Postal

While Americans can merely cough up another 5% for First Class Mail starting this Sunday--thanks the the Private Express Statutes--the UK is now open for competition:

The Royal Mail's 350-year monopoly ended at the turn of the year, allowing other licensed operators to deliver mail to business and residential customers.

Surprisingly, the Royal Mail - which currently controls 99% of the market - agreed to the move, even though under EU rules the deadline for such a move was not until 2009.

....Full market opening means that licensed operators are now able to collect and deliver any mail, from single letters to bulk mailings.

They can set up collection boxes, provide collections and deliveries between businesses, offer tracked mail services or mail deliveries at a guaranteed time.

A code of practice will ensure mail companies co-operate on issues such as the forwarding of mail and handling mail that is returned to sender, and a separate code will safeguard the integrity of the mail.

....The development is welcomed by consumers' group Postwatch, but not by postal union the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which has said the move is "ill-advised".

....However, according to one Swedish academic the UK may find liberalisation a positive experience.

Professor Peter Andersson, of the Department of Management and Economics at Linkoping University, has closely monitored his nation's postal services since liberalisation in 1993.

"We were the first nation to abandon the postal monopoly, and have now had over 10 years of liberalisation of the market," he told the BBC.

"To me the UK looks like something of a role model for the liberalisation process.

Will Cliff Clavin finally go the route of the dogs?

Life and Art Imitate Vaudeville

Too bad he wasn't an economist who could assume a Hide-a-Key:

BAKER, Calif. -- An artist who chained his legs together to draw a picture of the image hopped 12 hours through the desert after realizing he lost the key and couldn't unlock the restraints, authorities said Wednesday.

Trevor Corneliusien, 26, tightly wrapped and locked a long, thick chain around his bare ankles Tuesday while camping in an abandoned mine shaft about five miles north of Baker, San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Ryan Ford said.

....Corneliusien finally made it to a gas station and called the sheriff's department, which sent paramedics and deputies with bolt cutters. His legs were bruised but he was otherwise in good health, Ford said.

The artist did not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment.

And the drawing?

"He brought it down with him," Ford said. "It was a pretty good depiction of how a chain would look wrapped around your legs."

Girly Tories

Ah, for the days of the manly Maggie! Britain's new Conservative leader is miffed with newstands over chocolate oranges:

WHSmith has defended selling cut-price chocolate after coming under attack from David Cameron.

The Conservative leader criticised the newsagent for promoting half-price chocolate oranges, saying they were contributing to Britain's obesity crisis.

Outlining a new Tory approach to health, Mr Cameron asked why WHSmith sold chocolate oranges instead of real ones.

The store said it was perplexed by Mr Cameron's comments, and added that it was offering its customers a choice as some of its stores now sold bananas and apples.

"We are slightly bemused by all this. Confectionery is a relatively small part of our business," said a spokesperson.

"We sell a wide range of products. Customers could buy chocolate or healthier alternatives such as cereal bars or fruit and nuts.

"Oranges are not that easy and our customers don't want them, but they might want chocolate oranges. They were very popular in the run-up to Christmas."

Mr Cameron had made the comments as he said businesses must play a part in promoting public health.

"Try and buy a newspaper at the train station and, as you queue to pay, you're surrounded by cut-price offers for giant chocolate bars," he said. "The check-out staff have all been trained to push this product, whatever the customer is actually trying to buy.

"Why? As Britain faces an obesity crisis, why does WHSmith promote half-price chocolate oranges at its check-outs instead of real oranges?

"So many consumer businesses could do more to promote healthy diets and lifestyles. It simply requires corporate responsibility to be matched by marketing creativity."

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, criticised Mr Cameron in a newspaper interview, saying the Tory leader "understands nothing about nothing".

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

'Add in the middle man', says Ag Dept

Back to milking the New Deal in Kent Washington:

Nearly 18,000 people wrote the government over the summer and fall to protest arcane new rules that may kill off the iconic Smith Brothers Dairy, as well as two other family-owned Northwest milk farms. More than 26,000 people signed save-the-farm petitions.

But that eye-popping opposition from the public had no effect on the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Urged on mostly by large agribusinesses, the agency last month decided to approve the rules anyway.

Now 2006 is shaping up to be a year of turmoil at the 86-year-old Smith Brothers, famed because it still delivers milk directly from its own cows to 42,000 Seattle-area doorsteps.

....It all began when the feds rewrote milk-price controls that have governed the dairy industry since the New Deal. For decades most dairy farms have been required to sell their milk into a regional pool, and milk processors must buy from that pool at a set price.

But Smith Brothers was always exempt because it's a do-it-yourself dairy. It's one of the few dairies left that both raises and milks its own cows and also pasteurizes and delivers its own milk. Almost all other farms specialized away from this antiquated "moo-to-you" model decades ago.

The new rules, expected to take effect this summer, force Smith Brothers to join the pool. That means it would have to sell its raw milk into the pool and then, absurdly, buy it back in order to bottle it.

That could bankrupt Smith Brothers, but it won't much help anyone else, says an economist who analyzed the plan.

"I couldn't believe, when I did the arithmetic, how pointless this all is," said Professor Andy Novakovic, director of Cornell University's program on dairy markets. "It won't affect the broader milk market at all, but it's huge for those few dairies."

Smith Brothers might also be forced to sell off its cows or bottling plant, so it no longer does "moo to you."

All this came about when some titans of the milk business, such as $14 billion Kroger, which owns QFC, complained to the feds that indie dairies were undercutting them in the marketplace.

Smith Brothers' President Highland says Big Dairy wanted to make sure the do-it-yourself dairies never got stronger.

"We're collateral damage in a larger fight for control of the industry," he said.

Paul Krugman could not be reached for comment.

The Gang That Kan't Kidnap

First it was a Brit activist and her parents, now it's the parents of the martyr Rachel Corrie:

RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Palestinian gunmen who burst into a house, apparently to kidnap the parents of Rachel Corrie, left without them after learning their daughter was the woman killed in 2003 as she protested the demolition of a house in the southern Gaza town, according to their host.

Samir Nasrallah, in whose house Craig and Cindy Corrie were staying, said they left Gaza safely after the incident, which was part of a militant rampage through the town today.

The five gunmen appeared to be affiliated with the ruling Fatah movement, according to Nasrallah, but it was not clear if they were from the group that blockaded the border with Egypt and took over government buildings.

Corrie, 23, a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to stop it from demolishing Nasrallah's house. Her parents have repeatedly visited Nasrallah since.

Situation normal. All fouled up.

France is no longer in a state of emergency:

And to celebrate:

PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac vowed Wednesday to bring to justice a gang that terrorised hundreds of train passengers in a long rampage of violence, robbery and sexual assault on New Year's Day.

....The gang boarded the train, heading from Nice on the French Riviera to Lyon, in eastern France, early on January 1, as it carried 600 passengers home from New Year's Eve partying overnight.

Once inside, they went wild, forcing passengers to hand over mobile telephones and wallets, and slashing seats and breaking windows.

A 20-year-old woman cornered by several of the marauders was sexually molested.

Train staff alerted police, and the train pulled into a station to wait. The three officers who initially turned up had to wait for reinforcements before boarding, during which time the youths continued to wreak havoc.

"It was a real scene of pillage on the train," the regional state prosecutor, Dominique Luiggi, told reporters Monday.

The passengers were in a state of "panic," he said.

The train then resumed its journey with a heavy police presence on board but, just before Marseille, the youths pulled the emergency stop and escaped by running along the tracks.

Only three -- two 19-year-old Moroccans and a minor, all living in France -- were arrested.

Crazy Norwegians are Normal


The amount of people seeking psychiatric treatment amounts to 25 percent of all adult Norwegians. Another 450,000 Norwegians are believed to suffer psychiatric problems, but don't bother visiting a doctor.

Anxiety and depression are the most common ailments, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday morning.

Even the politicians are wacky:

Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has been among those seeking psychiatric help, after being diagnosed with a "depressive reaction" during his first term in the late 1990s.

Which might help explain this proposal:

Gjermund Hagesæter of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) wants to issue a credit card that's already paid up to the tune of NOK 18,000 (about USD 2,700). The money, however, can only be spent outside Norway, in order to keep domestic inflation under control.

Hagesæter also thinks it's wrong that high oil prices mean Norway is raking in much more money than it expected or, perhaps, deserves. This "petro-kroner" means the country's so-called "Oil Fund" (set up to stash away oil wealth for future generations) is growing at such a fast clip that it likely held NOK 80 billion, or USD 12 billion, more than expected in the state budget.

So Hagesæter wants to divvy up the excess and place it directly into the hands of Norwegians, with the proviso that it be spent in places that also can benefit the economies of Norway's many oil customers. He'd also allow the state-issued credit cards to be used to pay for train or plane tickets needed to transport Norwegians off on holiday.

In the meantime, due to lack of funds:

Long queues at the emergency psychiatric ward at Akershus University Hospital (Ahus) have led to suicidal patients being released before treatment is complete.

As well as hospitals generally:

All told, the country's taxpayer-funded hospitals logged a collective loss of NOK 1.1 billion (about USD 165 million), reported newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. Budgets for the coming year demand cost cuts amounting to NOK 1.5 billion, and that will likely mean some painful reorganization by hospital administration.

Girls From Ipanema Needed to Apply

For visa extensions in England. Though their boyfriends aren't so welcome:

The Home Office is to investigate allegations that immigration officials operated a "sex for visas" scam and ignored vital security checks.

Anthony Pamnani, a former administration officer at the Lunar House immigration processing centre in Croydon, south London, told The Sun newspaper that women were helped to stay in the UK in return for sex.

He also alleged that security checks were lax, making it easier for potential terrorists to sneak into the country.

According to the newspaper, Mr Pamnani, 23, alleged that attractive women applicants were seen first at the centre, which deals with 300,000 visa and asylum applications a year

"One girl came in and told us an admin officer had visited her flat and they had slept together. She got indefinite leave to stay," he said.

Brazilian women were given longer stays in the country than their boyfriends for no reason and passport pictures of women considered "ugly" were pinned up for the amusement of male staff.

The paper reported Mr Pamnani as saying: "Brazilian girls were treated best of all. If male and female migrants came in to extend their visas, the guy would get one year and the girl two - even if both had the same level of paperwork.

"The girl would only have to smile, bend over the desk and she'd get a longer stay."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

When Only Criminals Have Glasses

Scotland moves to ban the bottle:

GLASSES and bottles face being banned from Edinburgh's pubs and clubs under plans to tackle the soaring number of violent attacks fuelled by drink.

Alcohol will have to be served in plastic containers or metal cans under the plans drawn up by city officials to make all licensed premises glass-free.

The move comes after the number of glass and bottle attacks in the city soared by 40 per cent last year.

A similar ban is about to be rolled out across Glasgow after a pilot scheme involving nightclubs was credited with bringing about a dramatic drop in the number of such incidents throughout the city centre.

But bar owners in Edinburgh have vehemently criticised the idea, saying the scheme is unnecessary, costly and will spoil the image of some of the Capital's upmarket bars.