May 29th, 2010


BP bused in 100s of temp workers for Obama visit/Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill

Perhaps you saw news footage of President Obama in Grand Isle, La., on Friday and thought things didn't look all that bad. Well, there may have been a reason for that: The town was evidently swarmed by an army of temp workers to spruce it up for the president and the national news crews following him.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, whose district encompasses Grand Isle, told Yahoo! News that BP  bused in "hundreds" of temporary workers to clean up local beaches. And as soon as the president was en route back to Washington, the workers were clearing out of Grand Isle too, Roberts said.

"The level of cleanup and cooperation we've gotten from BP in the past is in no way consistent to the effort shown on the island today," Roberts said by telephone. "As soon as the president left, they were immediately put back on the buses and sent home."

Roberts says the overnight contingent of workers was there mainly to furnish a Potemkin-style backdrop for the event — while also making it appear that BP was firmly in command of spill cleanup efforts.
New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU reports that the workers were paid $12 an hour and came mostly from neighboring Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

News of 11th-hour spruce-up brigade spread rapidly Friday afternoon and infuriated locals. One popular radio host, WWL's Spud McConnell, suggested that the Coast Guard and the White House may have been involved in setting up the "perfect photo op."

"Who else has the kind of authority to bring a bunch of strangers to Grand Isle when the president is in town for a visit? You think they did background checks on all those people?" wondered McConnell. "I'd be a lot less upset about this if they would have at least stayed to clean the beach."

Yahoo! News could not reach BP for comment.

As BP makes its latest attempt to plug its gushing oil well, news photographers are complaining that their efforts to document the slow-motion disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are being thwarted by local and FEDERAL officials—working with BP—who are blocking access to the sites where the effects of the spill are most visible. More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.

Last week, a CBS TV crew was threatened with arrest when attempting to film an oil-covered beach. On Monday, Mother Jones published this firsthand account of one reporter’s repeated attempts to gain access to clean-up operations on oil-soaked beaches, and the telling response of local law enforcement. The latest instance of denied press access comes from Belle Chasse, La.-based Southern Seaplane Inc., which was scheduled to take a New Orleans Times-Picayune photographer for a flyover on Tuesday afternoon, and says it was denied permission once BP officials learned that a member of the press would be on board.

“We are not at liberty to fly media, journalists, photographers, or scientists,” the company said in a letter it sent on Tuesday to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “We strongly feel that the reason for this massive [temporary flight restriction] is that BP wants to control their exposure to the press.”

Rest of the lengthy article at Newsweek
jeeves, laurie, fry, wooster

David Laws' dilemma and the transition to gay equality

Having been Shadow Education spokesman for the third party until a fortnight ago, David Laws has had a remarkably high profile since the election.

George Osborne let him announce the Coalition's £6 billion of spending cuts, and it was revealed that Laws had disagreed with his own party's resistance to early cuts even during the campaign.

His Commons' defence of the cuts made him every Tory's favourite LibDem, with several on the right finding him a rather more robust economic 'dry' than your average Cameroon. The Standard's Paul Waugh was among those to jokingly tip him as next Tory leader.

Even Law's non-appearance on Question Time with Alastair Campbell caused a stir on Thursday night.

He would have made further waves on policy in his own party with his interview in tomorrow's Times, in which he appears to endorse some of John Redwood's ideas on tapering the capital gains tax, while most LibDems are supporting Vince Cable's efforts to defend the Coalition agreement against a concerted challenge from the Tory right. ("“Genuinely, I am struggling to think of anything we have disagreed on", Laws says of his apparent mind-meld with Chancellor George Osborne).

That may now get rather less attention since Laws is involved in what could become the first serious personnel crisis of the Coalition, with The Telegraph's report on his second home claim.

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Source: Next Left

I know it's the Next Left, but not too much politicising. I just find it discusses the duality of the story - the expenses and further discussion of MP sexuality - interesting, and that this article addresses a not unsignificant undertone. I find it curious how he didn't disclose this because he didn't want to disclose his sexuality - seems an odd thing to say. Understandable dilemma if you're THAT bothered about it I suppose... but he's naive if he doesn't think the Telegraph would have reported it.

Thousands flee volcanos in Ecuador and Guatemala

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as two volcanos erupted in Guatemala and Ecuador.

In Guatemala, the Pacaya volcano began spewing lava, rocks and debris on Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 50 others.

In Ecuador, the Tungurahua volcano forced the evacuation of seven villages and shut the airport and schools in Guayaquil, the country's largest city.

There is no suggestion the upsurge in volcanic activity is related.

In Guatemala, at least 1,700 people have fled the eruption, some 30km (19 miles) south of the capital city.

President Alvaro Colom has declared a state of emergency in Escuintla region, Guatemala City and areas surrounding the capital.

He said two people had died and three children were missing.

One man was killed when he fell from a building while sweeping up the ash. A TV reporter also died while covering the eruption.

In the village of Calderas, close to the eruption, Brenda Castaneda said her family hid under furniture as molten rocks fell on her house.

"We thought we wouldn't survive. Our houses crumbled and we've lost everything," she told the Associated Press from a temporary shelter.

The volcano has covered parts of Guatemala City in ash - up to 7cm (2.7in) thick in some areas - forcing the closure of the country's main international airport.

Seismologists have warned of more eruptions "in the coming days" from Pacaya - one of the most active volcanos in Central America.

Health concerns

In Ecuador, the Tungurahua volcano sent ash plumes six miles (10km) into the air.

Several thousand people have evacuated their homes in the area, 95 miles (150km) south-east of the capital Quito.

Strong winds blew the ash over the country's most populous city, Guayaquil, and forced aviation officials to close the country's main airport.

Julio Castro, who lives in Guayaquil, said he was worried about the health of children.

"Suddenly, without warning, the ash started to fall, and it was heavy, some even got into my eyes," he told the Associated Press.

"I can't see well now, it is annoying and we are worried for the children, above all."

There were reports that the ash cloud was dissipating as it drifted out over the Pacific Ocean.



Korean couple who let baby starve to death are having another baby, though daddy will be in prison

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- A couple whose baby starved to death while they raised a virtual child in an online fantasy game was sentenced Friday, their defense attorney said.

Prosecutors at Suwon District Court had sought a five-year sentence for negligent homicide, but the court handed out a two-year sentence.

Sentence was suspended for the female defendant, Kim Yun-jeong, 25, who is expecting the couple's daughter in August. Her partner, Kim Jae-beom, 41, will serve two years.
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I didn't realize they were having another kid. :( I wonder if they learned their lesson.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, South Philadelphia High, and Solving the News Problem

On yesterday’s Racialicious blog, Progressive Women’s Voices alum and writer Latoya Peterson analyzes the mainstream media’s failure to cover the “other” of news stories to our national detriment, as demonstrated in the coverage of the police shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, South Philadelphia High, and Solving the News Problemby Latoya Peterson

Racialicious, 5/27/10

Earlier this month, I was mulling over a piece in The Atlantic about the decline of the news, and Google’s attempts to assist the ailing industry. I found this tidbit fascinating:

“If you were starting from scratch, you could never possibly justify this business model,” Hal Varian [Google's chief economist ] said, in a variation on a familiar tech-world riff about the print-journalism business. “Grow trees—then grind them up, and truck big rolls of paper down from Canada? Then run them through enormously expensive machinery, hand-deliver them overnight to thousands of doorsteps, and leave more on newsstands, where the surplus is out of date immediately and must be thrown away? Who would say that made sense?” The old-tech wastefulness of the process is obvious, but Varian added a less familiar point. Burdened as they are with these “legacy” print costs, newspapers typically spend about 15 percent of their revenue on what, to the Internet world, are their only valuable assets: the people who report, analyze, and edit the news. Varian cited a study by the industry analyst Harold Vogel showing that the figure might reach 35 percent if you included all administrative, promotional, and other “brand”-related expenses. But most of the money a typical newspaper spends is for the old-tech physical work of hauling paper around. Buying raw newsprint and using it costs more than the typical newspaper’s entire editorial staff. (The pattern is different at the two elite national papers, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. They each spend more on edit staff than on newsprint, which is part of the reason their brands are among the most likely to survive the current hard times.)

Krishna Bharat (Distinguished Researcher at Google) puts an even finer point on the problems with the existing news model. Bharat runs Google News, the aggregator that sifts through “25,000 sources in some 25 languages” daily. And considering he has watched the type of news trends that receive coverage, his next comments are old news to many of us dissatisfied with how our communities are portrayed in the mainstream media, but hopefully illuminating to those in the industry:

In this role, he sees more of the world’s news coverage daily than practically anyone else on Earth. I asked him what he had learned about the news business.

He hesitated for a minute, as if wanting to be very careful about making a potentially offensive point. Then he said that what astonished him was the predictable and pack-like response of most of the world’s news outlets to most stories. Or, more positively, how much opportunity he saw for anyone who was willing to try a different approach.

The Google News front page is a kind of air-traffic-control center for the movement of stories across the world’s media, in real time. “Usually, you see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time,” he told me. “Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.” He didn’t mean that the publications were linking to one another or syndicating their stories. Rather, their conventions and instincts made them all emphasize the same things. This could be reassuring, in indicating some consensus on what the “important” stories were. But Bharat said it also indicated a faddishness of coverage—when Michael Jackson dies, other things cease to matter—and a redundancy that journalism could no longer afford. “It makes you wonder, is there a better way?” he asked. “Why is it that a thousand people come up with approximately the same reading of matters? Why couldn’t there be five readings? And meanwhile use that energy to observe something else, equally important, that is currently being neglected.” He said this was not a purely theoretical question. “I believe the news industry is finding that it will not be able to sustain producing highly similar articles.”

I’ve been thinking about this in light of the Stanley-Jones tragedy, and in light of South Philadelphia High School.

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Christian Bale

Bill Gates funds covert vaccine nanotechnology

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is gaining a reputation for funding technologies designed to roll out mass sterilization and vaccination programs around the world. One of the programs recently funded by the foundation is a sterilization program that would use sharp blasts of ultrasound directed against a man's scrotum to render him infertile for six months. It might accurately be called a "temporary castration" technology. Read more about it here

Now, the foundation has funded a new "sweat-triggered vaccine delivery" program based on nanoparticles penetrating human skin. The technology is describes as a way to "...develop nanoparticles that penetrate the skin through hair follicles and burst upon contact with human sweat to release vaccines."

The research grant money is going to Carlos Alberto Guzman of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Germany and Claus-Michael Lehr and Steffi Hansen of the Helmholtz-Institute for Pharmaceutical Research.

These are both part of the Gates Foundation's involvement in the "Grand Challenges Explorations" program which claims to be working to "achieve major breakthroughs in global health."

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TCR Pride


Malawi pardons jailed gay couple

A gay couple jailed in Malawi after getting engaged have been pardoned by President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

Mr Mutharika, speaking as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited his country, said he had ordered their immediate release.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were given 14-year jail terms earlier this month after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts. The case has sparked international condemnation and a debate about homosexuality in the country.

Mr Ban hailed the president's decision as "courageous". "This outdated penal code should be reformed wherever it may exist," he said.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in Lilongwe, says Mr Ban is trying to put pressure on parliamentarians to reform anti-homosexuality laws that date back to colonial times.

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[source -- BBC News]

This won't end well.

Fox host Van Susteren asks blog readers to gauge her intelligence

For journalists, hate mail comes with the territory. And it can come at any moment, with critics instantly shooting off emails when someone ticks them off on a blog or on the air.   

Fox News host Greta Van Susteren has surely received audience complaints before — but a recent email exchange irked her enough to take issue with it on her own blog. And in a move that Fox executives probably would have tried to discourage had they been consulted, Van Susteren also urged her blog readers to weigh in on the central point raised by her correspondent: that she is, well, rather dimly lit.

It all started when Brian of Tahlequah, Okla., told Van Susteren she had a "mind like a seive" (yes, it should be "sieve"). Brian didn't stop there: He also wanted the host to know that her "brain is empty."

"Matter of fact, it is so empty, if you put a pea in your skull it would rattle around like a BB in a boxcar," he wrote.

In her blog post, Van Susteren responded with a few questions — and several question marks. "Why does Brian watch if he thinks I am so stupid?" she wrote. "How stupid is that????"

Perhaps expecting fans to rally around her, Van Susteren polled the audience as to who's dumber: Van Susteren or the guy watching a show he doesn't like. As of this writing, after more than 12,000 votes, the results aren't in the host's favor: 67 percent of respondents say Van Susteren is dumber.

Still, she can probably take comfort in the performance that a Fox colleague, Clayton Morris, turned in on Friday's "Fox and Friends" broadcast. Reading an unrevised cue card in faithful Ron Burgundy style, Morris twice referred to himself as co-host Steve Doocy, at the beginning and end of a segment he was announcing. Perhaps the next poll on Van Susteren's blog will invite readers to pit Morris' intellectual heft against her own.


We Called BP and Gave Them Some Ideas to Fix the Oil Spill

The top kill has failed. Now BP is so desperate that they put a hotline on their website where you can call in and offer ideas. We called it and a nice woman answered. We gave her some ideas. Listen!

So yeah, the number is right on BP's website under "Do you have any ideas to help us?" So, go wild. (Also, BP, you should give that woman a raise.)

I haven't done it...yet. But you totally should! Call up BP, then tell us what you suggested.
' through the storm we reach the shore

Surprise, surprise

Another Politician 'Misidentifies' Military Record

Mark Kirk, the Republican running for President Obama's old Senate seat, said on several occasions that he received the Navy's exclusive Intelligence Officer of the Year award. He hasn't. And the Washington Post found out about it.

The award is given to one individual a year. And is thus a big deal. Kirk, who is currently a Congressman, wasn't particularly ambiguous about his winning it, either. He claimed it on several occasions. Most notably during a House committee hearing in 2002 when he said simply: "I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year."

Except he wasn't. The intelligence unit he served in in Serbia in the 1990s (not he as an individual) won another award entirely — one given by some private group, not the Navy. His spokesman, the wonderfully-named Eric Elk, would say only that "we found the award was misidentified and corrected the name."

It's amazing how these mistakes always make politicians look better. We've looked at the law of averages and it seems that the mathematics should lead half of all misspeakings, misstatements and misidentifyings to make the person look like their service was less spectacular than in fact it was. But this never seems to happen. Weird.

misc. | Hill Harper

ONTD_Political's PotD: May 27, 2010.

While we humans carry on with our daily lives down here on Earth, perhaps stuck in traffic or reading blogs, or just enjoying a Springtime stroll, a school-bus-sized spacecraft called Cassini continues to gather data and images for us - 1.4 billion kilometers (870 million miles) away. Over the past months, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made several close flybys of Saturn's moons, caught the Sun's reflection glinting off a lake on Titan, and has brought us even more tantalizing images of ongoing cryovolcanism on Enceladus. Collected here are a handful of recent images from the Saturnian system.
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Source/Full gallery:

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Talks Gay Parenting

Two of the hottest shows on television now feature gay parent storylines. While we will have to wait until next season to see Cam and Mitchell grow as parents (and hopefully show some affection for one another along the way) on Modern Family, and we impatiently wait to meet Rachel’s dads on GLEE, a real gay parent story is coming to CNN next month. A one-hour documentary titled Gary and Tony Have A Baby will follow a married couple throughout the entire surrogacy process.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien follows her successful Black in America and Latino in America series’ by telling the story of Gary and Tony, who after 20 years together and a legal marriage in Canada, have decided to grow their family. The special will air on CNN this June.


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aurora // once upon a time


Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan relieved of duty

Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard allegedly broke military rules on personal relationships 

UPDATED: Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard, has been dismissed from command following allegations he had an intimate relationship with a member of his staff, violating the military's rules on personal relationships in the field.

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Talk about drama. I'm disappointed I won't get to see Brig-Gen. Jonathan Vance speak at a conference I'm going to at the end of June. D:
talkin' that blah blah blah

President Obama To Skip Arlington On Memorial Day

President Obama is under fire for skipping the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery this weekend. Instead, he will be vacationing in Chicago and plans to deliver a speech at a cemetery there.

That's not sitting very well with some veterans.

Memorial Day honors the sacrifices made on behalf of a grateful nation. It's a day to pause and remember and appreciate the high cost of freedom.

Last year, President Obama kept with tradition and attended the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. But this year, he chose to attend a ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois.

The move is not entirely unprecedented. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, was in France on Memorial Day in 2002. He traveled with a bipartisan delegation, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, to American Cemetery in Normandy to pay respects to those who gave their lives on D-Day.

His father, the first President Bush, never attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington, and even Ronald Reagan missed two such events there, though for one of those missed ceremonies he went to speak at West Point.

With the country involved in two wars, some veterans see the president's decision to not go to Arlington on Memorial Day as a lack of sensitivity.

At a pre-Memorial Day event in downtown Manhattan Friday, veterans expressed their dismay.

"I'm not happy," World War II vet Nathan Abbe said. "I think it's an insult to all our veterans."

Vince McGowan fought in Vietnam. When he found out the Commander-in-Chief wouldn't be at Arlington, he cancelled his own plans to go.

"Let the president know that if it wasn't good enough for him to find the time to come and visit with us, then we'll stay home and take care of ourselves, as we always do," McGowan said.

But Katharine Cross, who lost her soldier son, Tyler, in 2002, doesn't see the president's decision as an insult.

"President Obama, I'm sure, carries a very heavy load. As our service people are today serving our country and defending it, so I'm sure is he," Cross said. "If he cannot be at Arlington, I'm sure he's serving us well."

Cross will travel with other Gold Star Mothers to present a wreath at Arlington on Monday.

Incidentally, during his eight years in office, President Clinton never missed a single Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington.


someone on my facebook was pretty upset about this. they made a status update with a lot of agreements that this is disrespectful. i don't really have an opinion because i'm not aware how significant the ceremony is; i've regretfully not paid much attention to Memorial Day in the past. opinions?