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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Daily Drift

The Daily Drift
Those were the days ...! 
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Today in History

Today in History
1391 Castilian sailors in Barcelona, Spain set fire to a Jewish ghetto, killing 100 people and setting off four days of violence against Jews.
1763 Colonel Henry Bouquet decisively defeats the Indians at the Battle of Bushy Run in Pennsylvania during Pontiac's rebellion.
1762 Russia, Prussia and Austria sign a treaty agreeing on the partition of Poland.
1815 A peace treaty with Tripoli–which follows treaties with Algeria and Tunis–brings an end to the Barbary Wars.
1858 The first transatlantic cable is completed.
1861 Congress adopts the nation's first income tax to finance the Civil War.
1864 The Union Navy captures Mobile Bay in Alabama.
1892 Harriet Tubman receives a pension from Congress for her work as a nurse, spy and scout during the Civil War.
1914 The British Expeditionary Force mobilizes for World War I.
1914 The first electric traffic signal lights are installed in Cleveland, Ohio.
1915 The Austro-German Army takes Warsaw, in present-day Poland, on the Eastern Front.
1916 The British navy defeats the Ottomans at the naval battle off Port Said, Egypt.
1921 Mustapha Kemal is appointed virtual ruler of the Ottoman Empire.
1941 The German army completes taking 410,000 Russian prisoners in Uman and Smolensk pockets in the Soviet Union.
1951 The United Nations Command suspends armistice talks with the North Koreans when armed troops are spotted in neutral areas.
1962 Actress Marilyn Monroe dies under mysterious circumstances.
1964 President Lyndon Johnson begins bombing North Vietnam in retaliation for Gulf of Tonkin incident and asks Congress to go to war against North Vietnam.
1974 President Richard Nixon admits he ordered a cover-up for political as well as national security reasons.
1981 President Ronald Reagan fires 11,500 striking air traffic controllers.
1992 Four police officers indicted on civil rights charges in the beating of Rodney King.
1995 Croatian forces capture the city of Knin, a Serb stronghold, during Operation Storm.
1997 Mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, goes on trial.
2012 A gunman in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, opens fire in a Sikh temple, killing six before committing suicide.

Non Sequitur

Daily Comic Relief

Fifteen Classic Children’s Books That Have Been Banned In America

Did You Know ...

1. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford

When: 1987
Why: The book was banned and then reprinted because it originally showcased a topless beach-goer (not like anyone could find her if they tried, though).
Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford

2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

When: 1988
Why: Everyone’s favorite childhood book was banned from a public library in Colorado because it was considered “sexist.” It was also challenged by several schools because it “criminalized the foresting agency.”
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

3. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

When: 2006
Why: Talking animals are somehow considered an “insult to god,” resulting in this book’s banning throughout random parts of the United States. Several institutions in Turkey and the UK have also banned the book, claiming that the character of Piglet is offensive to Muslims. Other institutions claim that the book revolves around Nazism.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

4. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

When: 1999
Why: The book was banned from an elementary School in Texas because it included the word “ass.”
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

When: 1983
Why: The book was banned from several schools for being “a bad example for children.” It was also challenged for teaching “children to lie, spy, talk back, and curse.”
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

When: 2010
Why: Forget anti-semitism; the 50th Anniversary “Definitive Edition’” was insteadbanned by a Virginia school because of its “sexual content and homosexual themes.” Additionally, the book was previously banned by several schools in the United States because it was “too depressing.” Most recently, in May of 2013, a Michigan mom tried to get the book banned due to its “pornographic tendencies.”
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

7. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

When: 1996
Why: The book was banned from several classrooms in Pennsylvania on accounts of “profanity, disrespect for adults, and an elaborate fantasy world that might lead to confusion.” The book has also been banned by other schools for its use of the phrases “Oh Lord” and “Lord.”
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

8. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

When: 2006
Why: Similar to Winnie-the-Pooh, this book was banned in Kansas because talking animals are considered an “insult to god.”
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

9. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

When: 1900
Why: Apparently there are references to sexual fantasies and masturbation in this book, resulting in its ban from classrooms in New Hampshire. Since this original banning, the book has been challenged by thousands of other institutions, most famously in the 1960s in fear that it would promote drug use to children.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

10. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

When: 1963
Why: The book was primarily banned in most southern states immediately following its publication, and it has since been challenged due to the fact that it promotes “witchcraft and supernatural events.”
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

11. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

When: 1989
Why: A California school district banned the book and claimed that it “criminalized the foresting industry” and would thus persuade children against logging.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

12. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

When: “Until as recently as 1991”
Why: Remember that time when Sam I Am tried to seduce his friend? Me neither. But the book was banned in California on accounts of “homosexual seduction.” It was also banned in China for “early Marxism” from 1965 until Dr. Seuss’ death in 1991.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

When: 1988
Why: A Colorado library banned the book because it embraced a “poor philosophy of life.” Additionally, since its publication in 1964, the book was under fire for comparing the Oompa Loompas to Africans. The characters’ descriptions were later changed in an edited version in 1988.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

14. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

When: 1928
Why: All public libraries in Chicago banned the book because of its “ungodly” influence “for depicting women in strong leadership roles.” In 1957, the Detroit Public Library banned the book for having “no value for children of today.”
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

15. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.

When: 2010
Why: The Texas State Board of Education briefly banned this picture book after confusing its author, Bill Martin, Jr., with philosopher Bill Martin, author of ‘Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.’
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.

BONUS: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When: 2010
Why: The 10th edition was banned in several classrooms in California because it included the definition for “oral sex.”

Did you know ...

Did You Know ...
About 100 of the greatest opening sentences in literature

About these totally random and obscure laws that actually exist

That multinational greed is de-stabilizing countries all over the globe

That apparently dogs do see in color

Egypt, Nazi Germany and North Carolina

Lunatic Fringe 
by D.G Martin

Does the following description of a political situation at the beginning of July apply to Egypt or North Carolina?
**Just a year after winning a decisive election victory and taking power from an entrenched regime that had been in charge for many years, the victors alienated a substantial part of their population. Their undemocratic efforts to deny participation by those people and groups who oppose them were patently undemocratic and unfair.**

It applies to Egypt before the recent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. But, arguably, it could apply just as well to North Carolina’s political transformation.
Our state’s political turnaround recently got the attention of another national columnist.
“There was a time,” wrote Neal Peirce of The Washington Post, “when North Carolina was a symbol of Southern enlightenment. Compared to the policies of the old ‘Solid South’--Democratic, conservative, fervidly anti-civil rights--the state embraced relatively progressive policies in such areas as education and race relations.
“No longer… the Tar Heel state is racing to lead the pack in conservative anti-city and implicitly anti-black politics.”
Peirce partially summarized the record, noting a bill that reduces revenue by a half-billion dollars, lowering taxes on high income individuals “while increasing taxes for small business owners and lower-and-middle-class taxpayers,” cutting unemployment insurance coverage, cutting support of elementary education, and repealing the Racial Justice Act.
In Egypt, the actions of the government led to popular uprisings followed by the government’s ouster led by the military.
In North Carolina, the actions of the government led to the protests on Moral Mondays.
“What are the odds that Moral Monday protests or the like will deter North Carolina’s new right-wing politics?” asks Peirce.
“Realistically, very low.” he answers.
Noting the legislature’s efforts to “seize city assets” like the Charlotte airport and Asheville water system, Peirce says, “It’s clear that an ugly ‘reward-friends, punish-adversaries’ politics is in full flower.”
Is there any prospect for change in direction?
Not much, according to Peirce. “Growing Hispanic and other more moderate political voices could offset the trend. But with North Carolina’s legislative districts carefully drawn to entrench the ascendant Republicans, a return to moderation may be years--if not decades--away.”
Somebody might ask, “Where is the Egyptian Army when we need them?”
On the other hand, some political observers point out that, after being out of power for so long, the newly empowered can be forgiven for a few excesses and that, once they are accustomed to the responsibilities of governing, their policies will become more moderate and practical.
The apologists for the ousted Egyptian government made the same argument.
Similar explanations were made to explain away Nazi excesses when they took power in Germany in 1933 according to Erik Larson’s recent best seller, “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin,” based on the experience of North Carolina native William E. Dodd, who was U.S. Ambassador to Germany during this period.
According to Larson, when the new Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels faced questions about abuse against Jews, he told reporters, “Let me explain how such a thing might occasionally happen,” Goebbels said. “All during the twelve years of the Weimar Republic our people were virtually in jail. Now our party is in charge and they are free again. When a man has been in jail for twelve years and he is suddenly freed, in his joy he may do something irrational, perhaps even brutal. Is that not a possibility in your country also?”
In our state, too?

Democrats Introduce Bill that Could Lead to Impeachment for Justices Thomas and Scalia

News of the positive sort
On Thursday last week, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a law to establish a Code of Conduct  for the Supreme Court.
It’s surely to have Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia quaking in their tea party boots because it would mean they would actually have to be independent of political and other influences. They would also have to have the appearance of independence.  They would have to stay away from political activity. That part would be really hard.
As it stands, this law would help guarantee that Supreme Court Justices are held to the same ethical standards we expect of other judges.
Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, joined by Senators Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the bill. It would make ethics mandatory, rather than an option left to the discretion of Justices like Thomas and Scalia.  It would mean all the Justices would have to live by the sort of ethical standards that Justice Kagan applied when she recused herself from Arizona’s ”papers please” law because she was Solicitor General at the time the Federal government filed suit. She did the same thing in 24 other cases  on the same grounds.
As Senator Blumenthal said:
This legislation’s goal is to preserve public trust and confidence – the lifeblood of the Supreme Court – after claims of questionable conduct by some Justices, No Justice, any more than a judge, should advance a partisan cause or sit on a case involving a personal friend or interest. There is no persuasive reason in law or logic why Supreme Court Justices should not be held to the same high standard as other federal judges.
The proposed law holds the Supreme Court to the same standards required of judges in the federal court system. Currently, Justices on the Supreme Court decide for themselves if they should recuse themselves from cases in which they may have a personal stake or in Thomas’ case, his wife has a political or financial stake as a holy roller in the tea party.
Justices Thomas and Scalia who attended a few partisan fundraisers also ruled in favor of the conservatives raising questions about their independence.  This was especially true in Citizens United because that ruling undid decades of established law.
Both of these actions violate the code of conduct already in place for Federal court judges.
We saw how well leaving Supreme court Justices to their own devices worked out when Justice Thomas ruled on the Affordable Care act, while his wife Ginni was  paid to lobby against the law.   The fact that Thomas “forgot” ,  to disclose Ginni’s income from lobbying against healthcare – even after she supposedly ceased lobbying against healthcare doesn’t help.  That would have been more than just an oops moment had there been a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. Thomas’  conflict of interest problmes are not restricted to benefits to Ginni.
Questions about Thomas and Scalia’s judicial independence are nothing new.  We saw it when both Supreme Court Justices attended a  Koch Brothers fundraiser in 2010 and the Federalist Society fundraiser  they attended in 2011, Thomas’ failure to disclose the sources Ginni’s income for six years also came out in 2011.    A code of ethics for the Supreme Court is a bill whose time came a few years ago and has increasing importance given Ginni Thomas’s involvement with Groundswell.
As noted by Media Matters,
The recent Groundswell memoranda obtained by David Corn of Mother Jones reveal that these conflicts are getting worse.
Ginni Thomas was the founder and leader of Liberty Central, a political nonprofit “dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist ‘tyranny’ of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.” The group was funded by Harlan Crow, frequent patron of the Thomas’ projects and causes and a financial supporter of right-wing campaigns such as the “swift boat” attacks on then-presidential candidate John Kerry and the advertising push to confirm President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. Crow also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, whose Edward Blum brought the two most recent attacks on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas favored Blum’s positions against progressive precedent on both civil rights issues.
Had Federal Court judges been as ethically challenged  as Clarence Thomas, they would have been forced to resign. Considering that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it seems the bar for ethical standards should be the same as those for lower courts – if not higher.
If the Supreme Court had a code of conduct, Thomas would have had to recuse himself on several cases in which his wife’s high profile within the tea party would scream of bias.  Had he failed to do so, there would be a legal basis with teeth to seek Thomas’ resignation.  For Thomas and Scalia defenders  tempted to question the constitutionality of holding Supreme Court Justices to ethics, Article 3 of the constitution says justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior. If independence from pillow talk with a political lobbyist isn’t good behavior, I don’t know what is.
Let’s face it, if you are sleeping with someone within a political party whose agenda is to prevent certain classes of eligible voters from voting, the odds of forgetting that fact while considering the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act are zero – or at least it sure looks that way to any reasonable person.  The same holds true when you at least look like you might be having pillow talk with someone with a political stake in the Defense of Marriage Act.
One can point to Justice Kagan’s ethical standards as proof that Supreme Court Justices can and do take principles like judicial independence and the appearance of it seriously.  Then one is reminded of Justices Thomas and Scalia.
This law would address one of the many problems created by the sort of corruption that has become synonymous with the repugican cabal and its puppet masters.  But then, that would mean doing something constructive and it would also mean that the separation of powers are in fact separate, rather than subject to pillow talk between one Supreme Court Justice and one member of the Groundswell propaganda alliance.

The cabal of (nutty) ideas

Lunatic Fringe
StraitjacketFINALIt's not your imagination. The repugican cabal really does seem to have taken leave of its senses.
The House repugican majority has decided that its final act before the summer recess will be to take its 40th vote to repeal all or part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. This time, repugicans will vote to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from playing any role in implementing the law, which would effectively gut the measure — in some parallel universe.
Like all the previous votes to kill, squelch, strangle, kneecap or otherwise incapacitate Obamacare, this one has zero chance of success in the reality that we inhabit. The inelegantly named Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013 could never make it through the Senate. If somehow it did, President Obama would whip out the veto pen faster than you can say "preexisting conditions."
Amazingly, this pointless exercise in the House makes more sense than what Republicans are doing in the Senate. There, Sen. Ted Cruz (r-Tex.) and his tea party-backed allies are threatening to shut down the whole government to strip Obamacare of all funding.
Cruz and his fellow chief insurrectionist, Sen. Mike Lee (r-Utah), want the Senate to refuse to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating beyond Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued a report Monday saying that implementation of Obamacare would continue in the event of a shutdown. But mere facts cannot begin to penetrate Cruz's carapace of certainty.
"There is a powerful, defeatist approach among repugicans in Washington," Cruz said in a radio interview this week. "I think they're beaten down, and they're convinced that we can't give a fight, and they're terrified."
It's quite a bit more likely that repugicans who oppose Cruz's nutty idea recall what happens when the party throws a tantrum and refuses to fund the normal and necessary functioning of the government. Cruz contends it is mere "cocktail-chatter wisdom" that the party was damaged by Newt Gingrich's 1995-96 shutdowns; he claims, incredibly, that the episode was good for the repugican cabal. Veteran repugican legislators who bear scars from that battle — including House Speaker John Boehner (r-Ohio) — would beg to disagree.
The shut-it-all-down initiative has the support of Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom are thought likely to seek the repugican cabal's 2016 presidential nomination — as is Cruz. I think someone should sign them all up for a reality show called "tea party 'frenemies.' " I'd watch.
This would all be hilarious if it weren't so alarming. Absent strong leadership from mature adults, the repugican cabal is drifting past "cabal of no" territory into an uncharted realm where the object seems to be to make the nation ungovernable.
Unable to control his unruly majority, Boehner has essentially given up; judge the House not on how many laws it passes, he said recently, but how many it repeals. Even by that standard, of course, this Congress is strikingly unproductive, since all those votes to repeal Obamacare have done nothing except waste everybody's time.
At this point, repugicans won't even support their own ideas. For years, the cabal has complained that corporate tax rates are so high they discourage job creation. So what was the reaction when Obama proposed lowering those corporate tax rates? House leaders immediately signaled that they were not interested.
Boehner does seem to be standing firm, at least for now, against the idea of a government shutdown over Obamacare. He has a powerful self-interest in the matter: While Democrats face an uphill struggle to reclaim control of the House in next year's election, the task becomes easier if voters are angry with repugicans for cutting off government services.
If we get past the shutdown threat, the next opportunity for mayhem will be a repugican threat — yet again — to grievously wound the economy by refusing to raise the statutory debt ceiling. Maybe we'll make it past this crisis, too. But chances that repugicans will actually let Congress do anything constructive seem dimmer than ever.
Obama can use his executive powers, but those only go so far. Next year, voters will have to decide whether elected officials who do not believe in government should perhaps find another line of work.

The truth be told

Daily Comic Relief

The scandal attention cycle

Did You Know ...
How the media lost interest in IRS targeting, even as new facts emerged
At this point, the evidence on the Internal Revenue Service scandal is clear. Contrary to the initial hype, there is no credible evidence of White House involvement in targeting conservative groups or even evidence that Tea Party or other conservative groups were targeted exclusively. It turns out that the keyword lists used by the IRS to target groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny also included terms like “Occupy” and “Progressive” as well as “occupied territories” and “open source software.”
Nonetheless, the scandal could have serious consequences for the IRS. As The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis argued this week, Peggy Noonan’s comparisons to Watergate may be hyperbolic but the reputational damage to the agency that she describes could be real.
The problem is what we might call the “scandal attention cycle.” George Washington University political scientist Danny Hayes has described how the “issue attention cycle” results in a surge in news coverage of a new issue like gun control followed by a fairly rapid decline, which received increased attention after the Sandy Hook massacre but ultimately trailed off, following a similar trajectory to previous high-profile shootings. A similar pattern often occurs for scandal—there’s a surge in initial interest as reporters rush to embrace the scandal narrative, but the press quickly loses interest after the most sensational charges are not substantiated. The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out. By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.
The coverage trajectory of the IRS scandal is a case in point. For each calendar week since the scandal began, I counted the number of total and front-page articles on the controversy that appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico, which are arguably the three most important sources of national political news and often set the agenda for coverage by other press outlets. (See the note on measurement below for details on the methods I used.) The results are plotted in the figure below, which include annotations of major disclosures in the case.
The story started with an unexpected apology from Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, on Friday, May 11. As concern grew, the story exploded in its second calendar week, which was dominated by high-profile coverage across the national media: The New York Times published nine stories, including five on the front page; The Washington Post published 16, including eight on A1; and Politico ran an incredible 66, including 12 that appeared at the top of its home page. But as contradictory facts emerged in June and early July, they had already lost interest, publishing a fraction of the stories that ran during the initial weeks of the scandal.
The trajectory is even clearer if we look at each publication individually in the figures below, which differentiate between the total number of stories published per week and those that appeared on the front page:

With the notable exception of an A1 New York Times story in early July by Jonathan Weisman on “the more complicated picture now emerging” in the case, all three publications gave much less coverage to the story once the facts were known—and, in particular, much less front-page coverage. This bar graph summarizes how much of the coverage appeared in the first three calendar weeks of the scandal (for context, Weisman’s piece about the targeting of open source and pro-Palestinian groups—the last development annotated on the graphs above—was published on July 5, almost two months after the scandal broke):
With so little prominent coverage after the full facts of the case became clear, is it any wonder that members of the public might still be confused?

Corporate Bank Structures Visualized

Did You Know ...
Shown on this map (which is interactive at the link) are companies that make up the Goldman Sachs group, which comprises thousands of business entities based all over the world. You recognize the shape of the United States and the UK, but you may have to check the drop-down menu to identify the others. The area highlighted in yellow here is the Cayman Islands, where the corporation has 739 subsidiaries. That big red blob in Europe? That's Luxembourg. You can mouse around to see each company and the other companies that it owns or is owned by. It can get confusing fast. There are also visualizations for Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, at OpenCorporates.

U.S. District Judge denies class certification sought by women suing Wal-Mart

Criminal Sex
The Wal-Mart company logo is seen outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc company distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking 
By Casey Sullivan and Dan Levine 

In another setback for women suing Wal-Mart, a U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected an attempt to bring reformulated sex discrimination claims against the company as a class action.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer denied a motion for class certification brought by plaintiffs seeking to represent 150,000 women in Wal-Mart's California offices who alleged the world's largest retailer denied them pay raises and promotions because of their gender.
The claims were filed as a reformulated lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a larger class-action sex discrimination against Wal-Mart Stores Inc in 2011 that claimed female employees at 3,400 Walmart stores nationwide were underpaid and given fewer promotions.
The California lawsuit was part of a broader strategy by women Wal-Mart workers to bring more narrowly tailored class actions in an attempt to seek damages, targeting Wal-Mart's employment practices in regions throughout the country.
Instead of relying on nationwide statistical patterns and anecdotal evidence provided by plaintiffs, the California lawsuit had alleged specific discriminatory statements made by the district and regional managers that have decision-making authority over pay and promotions.
Breyer said in his ruling that the women could not bring their allegations as a class action because they had not established that their claims of the company's employment practice were linked to a class-wide policy.
But he said: "This order does not consider whether plaintiffs themselves were victims of discrimination as alleged in their complaint; those individual claims shall proceed in this litigation."
Still, Breyer took issue with some of the merits of the plaintiffs case. For one, he said that the women did not identify statistically significant disparities in pay and promotion decisions throughout the California regions at issue.
Breyer also noted that the women said they had anecdotes reflecting stereotyped views expressed by a number of regional managers, but only offered evidence of bias exhibited by about five percent of the top level management that they say guided lower-level decisions.
"Though plaintiffs succeeded in illustrating attitudes of gender bias held by managers at Wal-Mart, they failed to marshal significant proof that intentional discrimination was a general policy affecting the entire class," Breyer said.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said in a statement that the company has had a strong policy against discrimination in place for many years, and that the allegations from the plaintiffs were not representative of the positive experiences of other women working at Wal-Mart.
"Judge Breyer gave the plaintiffs every opportunity to offer any evidence they wanted, and their evidence comes up short," said Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer representing Wal-Mart. "We are gratified."
Randy Renick, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that plaintiffs were "deeply disappointed" with the court's decision and intended to appeal the ruling.
"While this court decision does not in any way negate the merits of the pay and promotion discrimination case against Wal-Mart, it does create yet another hurdle for these women to at long last have their day in court," he said.

Boston Man Invents Straws And Cups That Detect Date Rape Drugs

Criminal Sex

When you and your friends are out on the town, do you keep an eye on your drink? It’s been years since the first warnings against colorless, odorless, tasteless “date rape” drugs, but they’re still showing up in bars, restaurants, at parties, and on college campuses. But, one Boston inventor and attorney aims to put a stop to them.
 Michael Abramson is sitting in a bar overlooking the harbor in South Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.

It’s the kind of place he comes for drinks with friends after work. Right now he’s eyeing the plastic straws… on the bar and in his drink.

“Your straw is constantly in your drink throughout the entire night. And let’s say now somebody slips GHB into your drink…”

GHB is one of the most common synthetic “date rape drugs.” It comes in liquid, powder and pill form, and it has powerful euphoric and sedative effects.
“Your straw would actually change color. Any part that is touching the drink would actually then change color. And it would be designed, too, so it would be clear that there was a color change happening, there would be no question about it,” Abramson said.

Red stripes on the straws and cups would indicate the drink has been contaminated. It’s an idea Abramson has turned into a business, under the name DrinkSavvy. He’s working with two professors at his alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to develop his first line of plastic straws and cups. He’s also working on glassware. [Watch a video of how it works below]

“Whatever you’re drinking from – your cup, your straw, your stirrer, your glass – whatever it is that you’re drinking from, if that were also the indicator that would change color if somebody has drugged your drink, well you’ve got continuous monitoring of your drink, you’ve got something that’s completely discreet, and totally effortless on the part of the end user,” he said.
The DrinkSavvy straw.
Abramson’s patent is pending, and he’s working to make the price of his cups and straws comparable to regular ones already on the market. He has support and office space in the MassChallenge startup center on Fan Pier, and he’s also a practicing patent attorney at a firm in Boston, but perhaps most significant is Abramson’s personal connection to his product.

“I got the idea after the unfortunate experience of being drugged myself,” he said.

Date-rape drugs are often associated with female victims, but Ambramson said men are drugged, too- often to be robbed.

“It was about three years ago. I was at a club in Boston and I had my first drink of the night and a few sips into it started to feel much more like my 15th drink. And the next thing I really remember is my friends throwing me over their shoulders and saying, 'They’re throwing you out, they’re throwing us out.'"
Michael Abramson developed straws and cups that detect date rape drugs after he was drugged at a Boston nightclub.
Abramson said he woke up the next day in his apartment, relatively unharmed. He doesn’t think he was robbed. But he couldn’t remember what had happened and he had a terrible hangover. He did not go to the hospital. And that’s common among people who suspect they’ve been drugged.

“A lot of times people don’t have a clear memory of what happened," he said. "And while they’re trying to sort it out, time is passing for those toxicology screens to be done.”

Meg Bossong is spokeswoman for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The organization collects data on rape and sexual assaults through its hotline and from hospitals, even incidents that aren’t reported to police. She said she doesn’t have data on the prevalence of so-called “date rape” drugs. And police and emergency room doctors agree, it’s very difficult to track since so few cases are reported, in part because of shame.

“It’s very hard to catch those drugs in the system," she said. "There’s a time limit for when you can catch those drugs in a toxicology screen. It’s about 72 hours.”

But these drugs can leave victims physically helpless, unable to refuse sex, and unable to remember what happened to them.

That’s why Abramson aims to bring his straws and cups to market and sell them to bars, restaurants and college campuses first. He’s raised $52,000 through the crowd funding Web site Indiegogo.

“I get emails almost weekly from people who have had much worse experiences than I have. And it’s really sad to hear but it’s also encouraging for me to get on it and try to make something that can actually prevent it from happening to anybody else.”

Abramson has promised his funders he’ll have straws and cups for them by September.

New Brazilian Law Guarantees Protocol for Rape Victims

Criminal Sex
 by Fabiana Frayssinet

Brazil.Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a law guaranteeing treatment – including emergency contraception – for rape victims in public hospitals, in spite of strong opposition from religious conservatives who believe it will lead to the decriminalization of abortion.
“In future when a victim of abuse goes to a hospital, the staff must follow the protocol,” said Health Minister Alexandre Padilha, announcing the president’s ratification of the law Thursday, which will enter into force in 90 days.
The new Law 3/2013 only introduces regulations for authorized procedures for multi-disciplinary care in the public health system for female victims of sexual violence, without actually modifying the country’s law on abortion.
In Brazil, abortion is only legal in exceptional cases: when the mother’s life is at risk; when the fetus has been confirmed by three doctors to be encephalitic (lacking a large part of its brain and skull); or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.
“The novelty is that the law establishes compulsory care in the health services for all cases of sexual violence,” said Beatriz Galli of the Brazilian chapter of Ipas, an international NGO that works for women’s health and reproductive rights, including safe abortions.
“At present, we know that some referral services for the care of victims of sexual violence are not working properly, especially when it comes to guaranteeing access to abortions in cases of sexual violence provided for by law,” she told IPS.
Galli said moral or religious objections by health professionals to practicing abortions were common.
She said there was even resistance in state public prosecutors’ offices, which sometimes request the seizure of records to make sure that the abortions carried out were within the limits of the law.
But the new federal law “will guarantee that health professionals can do their job with the requisite legal backing, putting an end to attempts to backslide on the reproductive rights of women, teenagers and girls who are victims of sexual violence,” Galli said.
Sociologist Angela Freitas of the Provincial Council on Women’s Rights, meanwhile, responded to conservative critics by saying that the law’s goal was not to legalize abortion but to guarantee the rights of women who suffered sexual violence, many of whom were teenagers.
“What bothers critics is that Brazil has begun to create public health services to provide care in cases of legal abortion, which is a victory for women’s movements,” Freitas, who also represents the ArticulaƧao de Mulheres Brasileiras (AMB – Brazilian Women’s Network) in the organization's Rio de Janeiro regional office, told IPS.
“Violence against women, especially sexual abuse, is on the rise, and this bill is important for guaranteeing victims access to healthcare and medical attention. People who are pro-life ought to support it,” said Galli, who added that one million illegal abortions a year are carried out in Brazil, often in conditions that put the mothers’ lives at risk.
Religious Resistance
Thursday was the constitutional deadline for ratifying law 3/2013, which was based on a bill presented in 1999 by Iara Bernardi, who at the time was a congresswoman for Sao Paulo from Rousseff’s left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).
But doubts had arisen as to whether it would be signed into law, due to rising pressure surrounding Pope Francis’ 22-28 visit to Brazil, even though the bill had been unanimously approved in both chambers of Congress.
Three days before the pope’s arrival, representatives of the Brazilian Catholic bishops’ conference and other religious bodies visited Rousseff at the government palace to ask her to partially veto the law.
They were lobbying for the removal of an article referring to “pregnancy prevention” and another requiring “victims to be informed of their legal rights and all the health services available to them” – that is, the right to abort, or to take emergency contraception pills, in cases of rape.
Emergency contraception, also called the “morning-after pill”, delays ovulation or prevents implantation of a fertilized egg up to 72 hours after sex, but does not terminate an already established pregnancy.
But Catholic Church leaders fear these provisions will allow abortions to occur even when sexual abuse has not been proven – in other words, that women may “invent” reports of rape to obtain legal abortions.
“It is despicable to think a priori that women are dishonest liars,” Freitas complained. “And it also shows a lack of respect for the knowledge of the health professionals who talk to and examine patients.”
Freitas pointed out that legal abortions are not easy to obtain in Brazil. “A multi-disciplinary team made up of doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists decides how to proceed in each case.”
So, “if a woman was inventing her story, she would be found out. But first she must be listened to and not condemned in advance,” she said.
Freitas highlighted that the new law compels the health services to follow regulations in force since 1999, “confronting the legal obstacles that anti-abortion sectors put in the way of rape victims when they decide to terminate a pregnancy and making it possible to penalize health professionals who fail to comply.”
She pointed out that, although emergency contraception and abortions are legal in certain cases, they are frequently not provided.
“There is a general lack of information and of referral services for this kind of care. Brazil is huge and hospitals with this kind of services only exist in the state capitals and other large cities,” Freitas said.
“There are doctors and hospital directors who refuse to talk about the issue and do not provide the service because of conscientious objections,” she said.

Say What ...

Daily Comic Relief
The 'I Spy' Edition

FBI pays for malware so it can spy on us with our phones and computers

Nations Behaving Badly 
The Wall Street Journal covers the FBI's use of malware to take over peoples' computers and phones, including one package that is used to turn the microphone in Android devices into a remote listening device. The story is alarming, but misses the two most significant points: 1. That this undermines the security of all of us, not just the people whom the FBI spies upon. The fact that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have created a market for bugs that can be turned into spyware means that people who find bugs are less likely to present them to the manufacturers for patching. That means that when those bugs are independently identified by criminals, we're all at risk of having our devices subverted.
2. The same companies that sell malware to the FBI also sell it to dictatorships around the world. The FBI legitimizes the development of spyware that is used by despots to decide whom to arrest, whom to disappear, and whom to murder.
Earlier this year, a federal warrant application in a Texas identity-theft case sought to use software to extract files and covertly take photos using a computer's camera, according to court documents. The judge denied the application, saying, among other things, that he wanted more information on how data collected from the computer would be minimized to remove information on innocent people.
Since at least 2005, the FBI has been using "web bugs" that can gather a computer's Internet address, lists of programs running and other data, according to documents disclosed in 2011. The FBI used that type of tool in 2007 to trace a person who was eventually convicted of emailing bomb threats in Washington state, for example.
The FBI "hires people who have hacking skill, and they purchase tools that are capable of doing these things," said a former official in the agency's cyber division. The tools are used when other surveillance methods won't work: "When you do, it's because you don't have any other choice," the official said.
Big Brother is Alive and Well 

Iranian government unveils finger-amputating machine for punishing "thieves"

Nations Behaving Badly
The Iranian government has released photos of a machine that amputates thieves fingers using the state media agency. The photos show a blindfolded man having his finger amputated, though he displays no visible distress. The Telegraph speculates that he might be drugged.
According to the INSA news service, the prisoner used to demonstrate the brutal contraption had been convicted of theft and adultery by a court in Shiraz last Wednesday.
A series of pictures show three masked officials, clad entirely in black, holding the man's right hand in a vice while one turns a wheel operating the guillotine in the manner of a rotary saw.
In none of the four closely cropped images does the bearded prisoner's expression register pain, suggesting that he may have been drugged.

Saudi Arabia’s Latest Savagery

Nations Behaving Badly 

600 Lashes for Raif Badawi

Islamic authorities sentenced a liberal journalist to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, after he questioned the role of religion. David Keyes reports on the latest outrage in the Kingdom.

“I feel sick.  I think I’m going to throw up,” a prominent Saudi academic told me yesterday.  “I was waiting for something like this to happen but I didn’t think it would be Raif.  I’m thinking of his wife and kids.  I really feel sick.” 


On July 29, Raif Badawi, founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.  His crime? Insulting Islam, speaking ill of Saudi Arabia’s religious police and, most puzzling of all, “parental disobedience.” 

Badawi is a 30-year-old man. Can an adult be imprisoned for disobeying his father? In Saudi Arabia, where all citizens are treated as children, the answer to that question is “yes.” The Saudi dictatorship doesn’t trust its citizens to speak their mind, and so impose paternalistic and draconian laws to keep in check those who might think differently.

Women in particular are infantilized, and their ability to move around, unaccompanied by a male guardian, is severely restricted. Women are banned from driving. They cannot go to coffee shops or restaurants with a male friend. And according to Saudi law, a woman cannot decide for herself to go on religious pilgrimage. She must have a man’s approval and be accompanied by her guardian.

Saudi Arabia is considered a close U.S. ally. Yet every few weeks a case like Badawi’s reminds us that despite a massive PR effort, the Kingdom remains a vicious tyranny that will lock you away for speaking openly about politics or religion.

Can an adult be imprisoned for disobeying his father? In Saudi Arabia, where all citizens are treated as children, the answer to that question is ‘yes.’

In June, seven men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms up to 10 years for writing posts on Facebook about political protests. The men were held in prison for a year and a half before they were even charged and tried, according to international human rights organizations.

Also in June, two prominent women’s rights activists, Wajeha al Huweidar and Fawzia Al-Oyouni, were convicted and sentenced to a ten-month prison term on charges of inciting separation between a husband and a wife. Reportedly,  they had tried to help a Quebec woman escape her abusive husband and bring her to the Canadian embassy in Riyadh. In fact, the Saudi government had been consistently harassing these women and used these trumped up charges to finally silence them.

And the list goes on.

The 23-year-old poet and writer Hamza Kashgari, who was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad after he tweeted three short messages on Twitter describing an imagined meeting with the prophet, has spent almost a year and a half in prison, and his fate is still uncertain.

Khaled al Johani, a teacher in Riyadh, was thrown in prison in 2011 after he gave an interview to the BBC, calling for democracy in Saudi Arabia. He was released last year.

Since its creation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the male descendants of the kingdom’s eponymous founder, Ibn Saud. The current ruler, King Abdullah, has been lauded in recent years for taking steps toward reform such as the inauguration in 2009 of the King Abdullah Science and Technology University where men and women can study together - a first in the kingdom.  And last year in Vienna, he opened the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue – a center supposedly aimed at promoting comity and respect between religions.

But if the Saudi king was really interested in dialogue and respect, he might have started in his own theocratic, gender-apartheid dictatorship.  Why did he need to fund a $20 million a year center in Austria when his own country bans Christians from importing Bibles and building houses of worship?  Why, indeed, did he need to fly to Europe for such ceremonial ribbon-cutting when in his own country he could have stopped the beheading of Abdul Hamid Al Fakki and Amina bint Nasser for “witchcraft”?  If he cared about respecting people of other faiths, how about letting non-Muslims step foot in the city of Mecca where they are banned?  Or not arresting people for celebrating Christmas?  Why not stop the printing of Saudi textbooks that call Jews and Christians “apes and pigs”?

Let’s be clear. Saudi Arabia is still a brutal dictatorship that harasses and imprisons liberals, democrats, activists, bloggers and journalists. It’s a place where women don’t have freedom of movement or access to the same services as men. The guardianship system ensures that women are treated as children who needs a man’s permission to do anything of consequence.

We look away because Saudi Arabia buys Western arms and sells oil at a steady price. It may seem like a good, stable arrangement. But it’s a devil’s bargain and lurking beneath the surface are deeper trends--the same ones that led to chaos and collapse in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Syria in the past two years alone. Betting on Saudi stability is a crucial mistake.

Activists such as Badawi are silenced in order to sow fear among others who might dare to challenge the dictatorship. This week, by imprisoning the young campaigner, the Saudi government proved, yet again, that it cannot tolerate those who think differently. A government that treats its people with such contempt deserves respect from no one. And rather than maintain the cozy diplomatic relations with this tyranny, the West should apply massive pressure to get Badawi and other political prisoners released.
Saudi Arabia remains a barbaric dictatorship.  It’s time the West start treating it as such.

The Psychology Of Poverty And Its Impact On Mental Health

In Matters Of Health
Poverty level has an impact on the mental health of all Americans. Those living below the poverty line are three times more likely to have serious psychological distress as compared to those living above the poverty level.

Warning over funky chicken in Australia

In Matters Of Health
Australian medical experts are warning against a schoolyard craze which has led to the death of children overseas. Funky chicken involves players hyperventilating and starving their brain of oxygen until they pass out.

It also goes by the names of ‘thumb-blowing’ or the ‘passing-out game’. They are just some of the labels for the dangerous fad, which is reportedly gaining popularity in South Australia.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) warns it is not the hyperventilating itself causing the problem - it is usually when someone falls downs and hits their head that the game suddenly becomes far more sinister. “Death can occur in extreme cases, it becomes more of an accident at the end,” Dr Patricia Montanaro from the AMA said.

Adelaide school Blackfriars has seen the craze surface before. “We educate our boys about the dangers of these sorts of things,” principal Andrew Whiteman said. “Usually it’s stamped out very quickly and it’s confined to a very small group of students.” Parents are being encouraged to speak to their children about the dangers.

Random Photos

Pictures Say A Thousand Words
Can't think of any at the moment ...

Genome sequencing work illuminates microbial dark matter

Scientific Minds Want To Know

The immense, invisible world of the earth’s microbial life is being illuminated by an extensive project to sequence the genomes of microbes at the single-cell level. The work is a major advancement both for scientists […]

A wooden railway discovered in Newcastle

Scientific Minds Want To Know
As reported in The History Blog:
Archaeologists excavating the site of the Neptune Shipyard in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeastern England, before development have discovered a 25-meter (82 feet) stretch of an 18th century wooden railway. These rails weren’t transporting trains — they wouldn’t be invented until the next century — but rather wooden wagons, aka chaldrons, pulled by horses. This is a section of the Willington Waggonway built in the 1760s to transport coal from several local collieries to the river Tyne...

...the networks of waggonways were essential to the development of the industry. They enabled collieries to transport far more coal than wagons on traditional roads. One horse could deliver between 10 to 13 long tons of coal per trip along the waggonways, four times more than that same horse could deliver off track. They were built like Roman aqueducts, at a slight downhill incline from colliery to dock, whenever possible so gravity could help drive the wagons...

 It’s a discovery of major historical significance, not just because of its importance to the history of the region, but because the rail gauge is standard gauge, still the most widely used rail width in the world... 
More information at The History Blog, especially re the development of standard gauge.  You learn something every day.

The 100 Ft Waterfall Inside The Grand Canyon

Planet Earth
Located near Supai and within the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Grand Canyon National Park is Havasu Falls; a picturesque, hidden gem featuring a main chute that drops nearly 100 ft (30 m) over a vertical cliff into a large pool of blue-green water.

The Velella

Animal News
This is the Velella, a small free floating Hydrozoan. It's currently the only known species in the genus.

Swimmers warned to stay away from Dusty the dolphin

Animal News
Swimmers have been warned to stay away from a dolphin in County Clare, Ireland, after the animal injured another bather. The dolphin, known as Dusty by locals, has been involved in four such incidents in the past month in Doolin harbor.

Authorities have repeatedly issued warnings not to swim with the female bottlenose dolphin. Dusty charged a woman as she left the water on Sunday night with some reports claiming she suffered back injuries. Dusty is believed to have struck the woman in the kidney area with its nose, knocking her over and leaving her winded.

Coast Guard officers treated the woman at the scene before she was taken by ambulance to the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick. She was left badly bruised and shocked by the incident. Dusty, believed to be about 14 years old, arrived in Doolin pier from the Fanore area of north Clare in 2011.

Dusty getting agitated with some over-enthusiastic bathers last year.

Locals say the three-meter long mammal, named after British pop singer, Dusty Springfield, whose ashes were scattered off the Cliffs of Moher, has been responsible for injuring a number of people over the past two years, with several of those being hospitalized with significant injuries. Now local groups are warning visitors to the area to respect the dolphin as a wild animal and not as a pet, despite the friendly connotations of the mammal.

Week-Old Rhino Learns To Wallow

Animal News
Baby Anna, a 155-pound Southern White Rhinoceros learns to wallow in the mud at Lion Country Safari - West Palm Beach.

Sick Pit Bull puppy's joyful reunion with his rescuer

Animal News
Mojo the pit bull puppy's happy reunion with his rescuer Mojo is a rescued 4-month-old Staffordshire Terrier mix. Just a week ago, he was too weak to eat and suffering from from severe mange. He had been surrendered to a Nova Scotia shelter. When Joey Wagner, who runs Baie Ste. Marie Animal Society, saw the pup he "knew he wanted to live" so his group decided to do everything they could to save him. The super sweet video below shows Mojo's happy reunion with Joey as the pup gets ready to be taken home. Joey plans on keeping Mojo.
See the video: Here
This is how Canada does it

Thirteen Wisconsin officials raid animal shelter to kill baby deer named Giggles

Animal News
By Jessica Chasmar
Two weeks ago, Ray Schulze was working in a barn at the Society of St. Francis no-kill animal shelter in Kenosha, Wis., when officials swarmed the shelter with a search warrant.
“[There were] nine [Department of Natural Resources] agents and four deputy sheriffs, and they were all armed to the teeth,” Mr. Schulze told WISN 12. “It was like a SWAT team.”
The agents were there to retrieve a baby deer named Giggles that was dropped off by a family worried she had been abandoned by her mother, the station reported. Wisconsin law forbids the possession of wildlife.
“I said the deer is scheduled to go to the wildlife reserve the next day,” Mr. Schulze told the station. “I was thinking in my mind they were going to take the deer and take it to a wildlife shelter, and here they come carrying the baby deer over their shoulder. She was in a body bag. I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘That’s our policy,’ and I said, ‘That’s one hell of a policy.’”
Department of Natural Resources Supervisor Jennifer Niemeyer told WISN 12 that the law requires DNR agents to euthanize wild animals because of their potential danger.
The station asked if the raid could have been done in a less costly manner by making a phone call first.
“If a sheriff’s department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don’t call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,” the supervisor responded.
Shelter president Cindy Schultz said she plans to sue the agency.
“They went way over the top for a little, tiny, baby deer,” Miss Schultz said.
This is how the USA does it