January 2nd, 2011

Ciudad Juarez residents flee Mexico's 'dying city'

In this photo taken Dec. 14, 2010, a once-popular nightclub sits abandoned in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The owner said he closed the bar after his business was set on fire three times for refusing to pay extortion fees to drug cartel enforcers. Many have moved not only their families but entire businesses out of the country due to the violence. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — The mother of four raised a finger, pointing out abandoned and stripped concrete homes and counting how many families on her street alone have fled the Western Hemisphere's deadliest city.

"One, two, three, four, here, and two more back there on the next block," said Laura Longoria.

The 36-year-old ran a convenience store in her working-class neighborhood in south Juarez until the owners closed shop, fed up with the tribute they were forced to pay to drug gangsters to stay in business.

Her family vowed to stick it out. But then came the kidnapping of a teen from a stationery shop across the street. After that, Longoria's husband, Enrique Mondragon, requested a transfer from the bus company where he works.

"They asked, `Where to?'" he recalled. "I said, `Anywhere.'"

No one knows how many residents have left the city of 1.4 million since a turf battle over border drug corridors unleashed an unprecedented wave of cartel murders and mayhem. Business leaders, citing government tax information, say the exodus could number 110,000, while a municipal group and local university say it's closer to 230,000. Estimates by social organizations are even higher.

The tally is especially hard to track because Juarez is by nature transitory, attracting thousands of workers to high-turnover jobs in manufacturing, or who use the city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, as a way station before they slip north illegally.

But its toll is everywhere you look. Barely a week goes by when Longoria and her husband don't watch a neighbor move away. Then the vandals arrive, carrying off window panes, pipes, even light fixtures, until there's nothing but a graffiti-covered shell, surrounded by yards strewn with rotting food or shredded tires. That could be what's in store for Longoria's three-room home of poured concrete if her husband's transfer comes through.

Long controlled by the Juarez Cartel, the city descended into a horrifying cycle of violence after Mexico's most-wanted kingpin, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his Sinaloa Cartel tried to shoot their way to power here beginning in 2008. President Felipe Calderon sent nearly 10,000 troops to restore order. Now, the Mexican army and federal authorities are going door-to-door, conducting an emergency census to determine just how many residents have fled.

Many people, however, refuse to answer their questions for fear authorities are simply collecting information about neighborhoods so they can begin extorting residents – just like the drug gangs. "Soon," Longoria said, "there won't be many people left to count."

While many Juarez residents fleeing the violence seek out more peaceful points in Mexico, others have streamed across the border into El Paso, population 740,000, where apartment vacancies are down and requests for new utility services in recently purchased or rented houses have spiked, according to Mayor John Cook.

Massacres, beheadings, YouTube videos featuring cartel torture sessions and even car bombs are becoming commonplace in Juarez, where more than 3,000 people were killed in 2010, according to the federal government, making it among the most dangerous places on earth.

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stock | Got My Drink On

ONTD_Political's PotD: January 01, 2011.

A New Year Rolls In |The world has already begun to welcome 2011, as the New Year has been entered by people living on some Pacific islands, Australia and Asia. As the Earth revolves today, bringing the rest of us into the year 2011, I'll be updating this entry, to show people all over as they ready themselves, celebrate and welcome the New Year. 2011 will be observed as the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac, a year with attributes of gentleness, persistence and luck. Happy New Year everyone!
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Full Gallery:

A Basket Full of Military Fail to Ring in the New Year

Washington (CNN) -- The Navy has opened an investigation into how a series of raunchy videos, full of sexual innuendo and anti-gay remarks, were produced and shown to the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise while on deployment supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Navy spokesman Cmdr. Chris Sims said the videos, which were shown to the crew in 2006 and 2007, are "inappropriate."

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I CAN'T EVEN.  How do you make a statement about the offensiveness of a video WHEN YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT?

In Isolated Utah City, New Clubs for Gay Students

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Some disapproving classmates called members of the new club “Satanists.” Another asked one of the girls involved, “Do you have a disease?”

But at three local high schools here this fall, dozens of gay students and their supporters finally convened the first Gay-Straight Alliances in the history of this conservative, largely Mormon city. It was a turning point here and for the state, where administrators, teachers and even the Legislature have tried for years to block support groups for gay youths, calling them everything from inappropriate to immoral.

The new alliances in St. George were part of a drastic rise this fall in the number of clubs statewide, reflecting new activism by gay and lesbian students, an organizing drive by a gay rights group and the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has threatened to sue districts that put up arbitrary hurdles. Last January, only 9 high schools in Utah had active Gay-Straight Alliances; by last month, the number had reached 32.

The alliances must still work around a 2007 state law that was expressly intended to stifle them by requiring parental permission to join and barring any discussions of sexuality or contraception, even to prevent diseases.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative family group, promoted the law. Its authors expected, she said, that requiring parental permission would deter some children from joining the alliances and that restricting topics for discussion would mean that “there’s not a lot of purpose in being there, and the clubs end up being pretty small.”

“I just don’t think these clubs are appropriate in schools,” Ms. Ruzicka said. “You can talk about providing support, but you’re also creating a gay recruiting tool.”


The NY Times has the full article
leighton meester loves the bight lights

Palestinian orchestra to hold debut concert in Ramallah

The first Palestinian orchestra of professional classical musicians since 1948 is due to perform its debut concert in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The Palestinian National Orchestra will play a mix of Palestinian classical compositions, as well as some classics such as Mozart and Beethoven.

They will also hold concerts on 1 January in Haifa and Jerusalem.

All of the musicians are of Palestinian origin, and many have played with orchestras around the world.

The group is an initiative of the Edward Said Conservatory of Music, named after the late Palestinian writer and academic, and was formed in 1994.

The programme also consists of a piece by the modern Hungarian Jewish composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, both of whose parents were sent to Auschwitz.

I always love seeing the rare good news story coming out of the West Bank.

coffee lol

It's Not OK To Be Who You Are

You're OK Just the Way You Are

Here's something I never thought I'd admit in writing: Occasionally, I watch Saturday morning cartoons. Only after the news, though, which makes it much better! And watch is too strong a word, really, since I'm simultaneously getting ready to dash out the door and savor the weekend. But one morning while I was flat on my back with the flu, I did languish in front of the tube, digesting and pondering what our culture is telling children.

It's not subtle.

You Be You
One cartoon's plotline was centered on the acceptance of others—as many plotlines are. But this wasn't the acceptance of a relatively fixed quality such as body size, body color, body gender, or even intelligence and religious beliefs. This was acceptance of a dog's utter lack of personal hygiene. (It was Saturday morning cartoons, remember?) This terrier was so rank that his canine friends literally couldn't breathe around him. And his stench ruined a pal's birthday party.

But when this putrid pooch decided to shower rather than roll in his favorite rotting fish heads, he was miserable. So his frisky friends promptly started to feel guilty for making him feel guilty. They told him he could—should!—go back to his old ways. In fact, they even brought him new filth to flounder in. After all, they wanted him to be happy, and they loved him just the way he was. If they had to wear clothespins on their noses to hang around with him, then so be it.

Pardon my disgust, but isn't this type of thing called enabling in the adult world?

In any case, it's not taking responsibility for how one is negatively affecting others. I know, I know. You're probably telling me to lighten up already. It's just a silly kids' show. And smelly children need friends too! I might change my tune if you could prove to me that this is an isolated example.

But you can't.

As 2010 was running out of elbow room, I drew the short straw and had to see the big-screen adaptation of Yogi Bear. I concluded my review thusly: "So let me recap for you. Yogi is a destructive, selfish, impulsive, bullheaded manimal who constantly lies and steals. But that's OK because, ultimately, we should be proud of who we are, no matter what."

I could go on. And I think I will.

And Adults Too
Kids aren't the only ones getting dosed with large spoonfuls of this sort of social medicine. As the reigning U.S. television comedy, Two and a Half Men proffers a never-ending stream of perfectly heinous behavior that's not only tolerated but laughed at and looked forward to by millions of fans. Central character Charlie can do virtually any immoral thing he wants—while remaining America's favorite sitcom star.

Because he is who he is. And he's OK with that. So we're OK with that.

If we think watching such content isn't affecting us, we'd be smart to think again. A friend's mother did just that recently. She and my friend were listening to a news story on gay marriage when she blurted out, "Why don't people stop discriminating against them?! They deserve to marry!" My friend, a Christian psychologist, was shocked by her mother's reaction, and the two talked through the older woman's attitudes. The report back to me went something like this: My mom eventually realized how much her reaction was a result of her television habits. She'd seen homosexuality presented as an acceptable and attractive lifestyle for so long now (yes, a decade is a long time in our fast-moving culture) that she'd bought the lie.

Noted 20th-century Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said, "Whoever controls the media controls the culture." And he certainly wasn't the first to come up with the concept. Playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton is well known for his line, "The pen is mightier than the sword," a sentiment that's a mere reflection of English philosopher and political theorist John Locke's assertion, "Whoever defines the word, defines the world," which, in turn, echoes William Shakespeare's declaration in Hamlet that, "Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither."


Since Hollywood holds the bulk of our modern-day playwrights and philosophers, who reach into our culture and teach us "right" and "wrong," we're in serious trouble. Because rather than questioning their judgment or even their reasoning, we often accept their ideas as innocent entertainment. Maybe even art. Beauty isn't always in the eye of the beholder, though. When we consider that true beauty is that which is superior from God's perspective, it's an unavoidable conclusion that Glee, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half MenGrey's Anatomy and virtually everything else that slips into your soul by way of electronic entertainment falls far short.

The Truth and Everything But the Truth
The adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, drunkenness, profane language and violence that comes part and parcel with our entertainment should make us furious. But we're not. Why? Because we've become tolerant of it—just like we've been taught by our kiddie cartoons.

King David had his faults, to be sure. But watching too much TV or spending too much time plugged into his iPod apparently weren't among them, because in Psalm 101:3 he says, "I will not look with approval on anything that is vile." He wasn't very tolerant because he knew how much depraved things offend God—and affected him as a man.

In a world where absolute truth is about as popular as a trip to the dentist, most of us are easily swayed by what's in front of us. Especially when it arrives neatly packaged in a poignant story or funny fable. Media consultant Gordon Pennington, when interviewed for Focus on the Family's Truth Project, said, "We need truth today more than we've ever needed it. No generations have ever been more manipulated than the generation that lives today. … People are responding to an array of stimuli that is simply overwhelming. To filter that out and to protect oneself requires a kind of understanding, awareness, discipline and resistance that's very rare."

He continues: "If part of living in the modern world today means that we're going to be exposed to ideas that we find repugnant, malevolent, dark, wicked, then what do we do to challenge the predominant institutions, the predominant powers that control these images?"

As for Christians, Pennington says, "We should be the great conscientious objectors who always want to return to a place of truth, to a place of vulnerability to that truth. Most people don't really want to know the truth if it means being disappointed along the way, so eat, drink and be merry. Be distracted, entertained and amused to death. The risks of pursuing truth are tremendous, and what could be a greater adventure than to risk everything in pursuit of the one thing that endures? If truth isn't worth all that, then it probably isn't truth at all."

Do we turn off the TV and risk missing a favorite show in order to be a conscientious objector? Do we skip a movie because it teaches an irrational—ungodly—tolerance? Do we delete a track on our iPod because it celebrates some sexual sin?

Do we cherish truth in our entertainment?

The fact is, no one is OK just the way they are. And we know that because God tells us it's so. The problems are more complex than merely rewriting Saturday morning cartoons—but it's easy to start the filtering process. The first step frequently involves the off button. And it involves gaining a better sense of what is true—and therefore perfect just the way it is.

Fundamentalist Source (site is run by Focus on the Family)

My friend found this article while he was looking for an online archive of television cartoons for his daughter to watch, and called me over to have a look at it too, since he was absolutely appalled. I was too. At least in my opinion, the writer of this article COMPLETELY missed the point...

Blondes Earn More Than Brunettes And Redheads, Says Study

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They often say that blondes have more fun, and now a new study says that they rake in the most amount of dough, too.

Conducted by the U.K.'s Superdrug chain, the study found that ladies with lighter locks earn about $870 more per year than their brunette or redhead counterparts, reports UK's The Daily Mail.

The study analyzed the earnings of 3,000 working British women, and found that the average blonde takes home about $35,650 a year, compared to $34,780 for brunettes, and $34,380 for redheads.

Even though the blondes earned a higher salary, the most common complaint among the women was that they don't feel they're taken seriously at work. Yet, many of the surveyed blondes confessed that they didn't mind the ditzier stereotype, and in some cases, even play it up to their advantage.

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Shirley Animated

The Anti-Obama

Could a wealthy, white, well-connected southerner really grow up to be president? Haley Barbour can't wait to find out.

Haley Barbour is not well equipped for the age of Obama. Just look at the man's office. The Republican governor of Mississippi keeps a large portrait of the University Greys, the Confederate rifle company that suffered 100 percent casualties at Gettysburg, on a wall not far from a Stars and Bars Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis. Then there's the man himself. Rather than walking across the street from his office to the state capitol, he rides a hundred or so yards in the back seat of a large SUV, air conditioning on full blast. It's a pity he favors the SUV because, as his friends will tell you and his appearance confirms, Barbour could use the exercise. The cofounder of one of the nation's largest lobbying firms may or may not be the Good Ole Boy Republican Fat Cat his liberal critics make him out to be, but he certainly looks the part.

A year ago, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, the Serious, Responsible people who appear on Sunday-morning talk shows agreed that, if it wanted to survive, the Republican Party needed to stop letting men like Barbour appear as its public face. The election of 2008 was not just about parties trading off power. It marked the end of an epoch. No longer could Republicans count on the basic conservatism of the American people, the reflexive hostility to candidates who favor big government. The electorate had changed: white Reaganites and religious conservatives no longer held sway. Now the power lay in the growing Hispanic population and all those teeming masses of idealistic people, yearning for something cool.

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Sauce: Newsweek

Key House Republican: We Might Have Veto-Proof Majority For Repealing Health Care

NEW HAVEN -- Incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) predicted on Sunday that House Republicans would not only have enough votes to repeal the president's health care reform law, but also could have the numbers to override a presidential veto of that repeal, and would start the process before the upcoming State of the Union address.

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