May 31, 2006

US Troops Shoot Pregnant Iraqi Woman

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Left: Iraqi woman mourning her dead relatives; photo courtesy of AP

(Samarra, Iraq) In what will likely become another embarassing moment for the US military, American troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad, killing two Iraqi women.

One of the women was reportedly pregnant and on her way to a Baghdad hospital.

Shots were fired to disable the vehicle," said military officials in a statement to The Associated Press. "Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women had died from gunshot wounds ... and one of the females may have been pregnant."

The US military said that the car had entered a "clearly marked prohibited area" near an observation post.

Khalid Nisaif Jassim, brother of the pregnant woman, said American troops had blocked off the side road just two weeks ago, and that news about the checkpoint had been slow to reach rural areas.

The shooting incident comes on the heels of news reports about an alleged massacre in the town of Haditha last November, in which US Marines may have killed 23 unarmed civilians in retaliation for the death of a fellow soldier, Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas.

Developing...

Violence Flares Again in France

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Left: Burning police car in Montfermeil; photo courtesy of BBC

(Paris) Several hundred youths clashed with police Tuesday night after setting fire to cars, trash bins, and brush piles in a Paris suburb that was the scene of violent riots last year.

At least four police officers were injured in the violence, and as many as 18 youths were arrested. The rioting took place in the suburbs of Montfermeil and Clichy-sous-Bois.

Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated that the government will not tolerate further trouble.

"I will not allow more disorderliness neither in Clichy-sous-Bois, nor in Montfermeil, nor anywhere else in the Republic," he said.

The violence appears to be a response of discontent against the mayor of Montfermeil, who imposed a curfew forbidding youths from 15 to 18 years of age from gathering in groups of more than three and requiring anyone under 16 to be accompanied by an adult on city streets after 8 pm.

The November riots, in which immigrant groups were among the majority of protesters, revolved around anger at racial discrimination, police harassment, and a lack of educational and employment prospects. French officials remain optimistic that a repeat of the widespread violence will not recur.

In all more than 10,000 vehicles and 200 public buildings were set on fire, 127 police officers were injured, and 4,500 people arrested; damage was estimated at $250 million by insurers.

New Family Member

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(Toledo, OH) To your left is Jimmy, a 6-year old Sheltie that we adopted today from the Toledo Humane Society. He stands only about 18" tall, and weighs about 20 pounds.

He is very friendly and seems to fit right in at our busy house.

The kids are not enamored with the name "Jimmy," so we may end up calling him something else in the future.

The good news is that he is already housebroken, and knows quite a few commands. His previous owners had to move and could not bring him with them.

Everyone seems to love him, although my youngest son seemed to think this was too soon after the death of our old Labrador, Hershey. I am sure he will come around in the next few days.

The Quote Shelf

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

--Douglas Adams

May 30, 2006

Marmots Menace Senior Community

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Photo by Ross Courtney, Yakima Herald Republic

(Prosser, WA) Residents in a senior housing community are perturbed with the influx of a particularly aggressive group of marmots. The rodents are related to groundhogs and prairie dogs.

People in the Wine Country Villa senior subdivision are complaining about large burrows and rodent droppings, and even claim that the marmots have attacked some residents.

"Can you imagine what they'd do to cats?" asked Dick Bain, a resident who killed two marmots with a shovel Friday morning. "My neighbor got tackled (by marmots) two years ago and got chewed up pretty bad."

The animals, which can grow up to 30 pounds, are not considered a risk to transmit infectious disease. City ordinances prohibit the shooting of the marmots, and residents find their options of dealing with the animals are limited.

State officials say that the residents must first lodge complaints with the state, and wait for referrals of certified exterminators.

"It's not an animal you'd want to tangle with," said spokeswoman Madonna Luers of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Quote Shelf

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.


Moving away from the literary and historical quotes today; if you are unfamiliar with the song it is on the Born to Run LP.


Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see
Trying to learn how to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be
Well after all this time to find we're just like all the rest
Stranded in the park and forced to confess to
Hiding on the backstreets.


-- Bruce Springsteen, "Backstreets"

Der Spiegel Interviews Ahmadinejad

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There is an intriguing interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Der Spiegel today. I urge everyone to read it for greater insight into the mindset of the Iranian government, as well as for edification against the beating of war drums by those who would prod the US into war against Iran.

I am going to withhold comment on it for the moment; I want to re-read it and also get some java flowing in my veins.

That being said, it appears that Ahmadinejad is trying to put his earlier coments about the Holocaust into a different context (assuming that he was correctly translated when he made statements denying the existence of the Holocaust).

He also has some blistering words about the support that Sadaam Hussein received from the West during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and the hypocrisy of nuclear states demanding that Iran end its uranium enrichment program.

May 29, 2006

On Memorial Day and American Freedom

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Left: Arlington National Cemetery

(Toledo, OH) While sitting in my backyard with family and friends today, I realized how lucky I am to live in the United States. I also know that the relative freedom and prosperity I enjoy is owed in part to the sacrifices of millions of American military personnel.

I do not write these thoughts as a sort of insipid Hallmark bit of fluff, the obligatory holiday pat on the back to the military that spring up on patriotic days like today.

I am lucky, for I could have been one of the one billion people in the world who go to bed hungry every night, or one of the nearly three billion people who exist on less than $2 a day.

The sacrifices made by millions of American military personnel have secured for the United States its preeminent position as the dominant world superpower. Many people use the term "American Empire" to describe the United States in the 21st century, but today is not the day to debate the merits of American imperialism.

And yet, it matters not whether the causes for which American soldiers fought and died have always had moral justification. The fact that citizens believed they fought a noble cause - and willingly gave their lives - is reason enough to give them our thanks.

We can direct any ire - if deserved - at the federal politicians who make the decisions about sending our troops to war.

Today we should pause and remember the contributions of Americans past and present who were willing to die for their country.

Tomorrow we can argue about whether they have ever been deceived.

The Quote Shelf

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it. --Francois de La Rochefoucauld

May 28, 2006

On Coingate, Fritzgate, and Tanbergate

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(Toledo OH) I read with interest the Toledo Blade article detailing what the editors of the paper claim they knew about Fritz Wenzel, the Blade reporter that GOP and Blade sources claim knew about the shady dealings of Tom Noe.

I worked on this story for two weeks last year for the Toledo Free Press, but given the fact that no sources would go on the record, we spiked it. There is no point in running a story with 8 off-the-record sources.

At the risk of sounding like an arrogant fortune teller, the piece was about what I expected. The Blade is sticking to the same story that they have been telling: namely, that Fritz Wenzel never approached Blade editors about GOP money laundering, Coingate, or any other Noe-related scandals.

While the sidebar claimed that the Blade's purpose "is not to bash any individual, including the author of the letter," they did take a few swipes at George Tanber, the Blade writer who sent the anonymous letter to the Pultizer Prize committee charging that the paper attempted to coverup alleged ethical lapses by Wenzel. Tanber was fired by the Blade for his role in the letter to the Pulitzer committee.

Also getting some implied shots was Editor and Publisher magazine, which discussed the Blade's use of emails and outing of sources.

What it all boils down to is this: Wenzel said he told Blade editors everything he knew about GOP money laundering schemes and Coingate, and the Blade editors say that he never approached them. Wenzel says that he kept Blade editors apprised of his roles as a Zogby freelancer and as a GOP strategist, and the Blade editors say that he did not. Readers can decide for themselves who they believe.

I have never met or spoken with George Tanber, and in 16 years in Toledo I have exchanged two emails with the man (both unrelated to Wenzel). Nor have I read the Pulitzer letter, so I am unable to even comment on it. Copies are flying around, so if I get one I will post it.

The Blade piece provided readers with most of the facts in the matter, put just a little spin on the affair, and readers leave the article knowing only a few more details than were available in the previously published articles in Salon, E&P, Cincinnati City Beat, and Toledo City Paper.

Here's my take, for what it is worth. I think Wenzel was told about the scandals by GOP sources, sat on them, and never told anyone what he knew. I find it hard to believe that the Blade editors knew about Coingate and Laundrygate before the 2004 election, as these stories were too hot to shelve. I think the Blade editors later found out about the alleged ethical lapses of Wenzel, and tried to keep them internal personnel matters.

The purported crowing in the Blade newsroom by Wenzel to some of the Coingate reporters ("I knew about this months before you") and the going away party at the Belmont Club for Wenzel turned this into a very public scandal, as pissed off Blade employees began to talk about Wenzel's alleged ethical lapses.

That's what I believe; what do YOU think?...

The Quote Shelf

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little. --Plutarch

May 27, 2006

On Haditha, Rage, and the Fiction of an Iraqi Nation

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Photo of dead Haditha civilians courtesy of Reuters and Hammurabi Organisation via Reuters TV


I have known pure rage, that primal emotion that can overwhelm the most rational of people. I have lusted for vengeance against a person who hurt someone close to me, and - if I had ever known that person's identity - I cannot guarantee that my desire to seek the proverbial eye for an eye would not have overridden my normal peaceful personality.

Many were the nights I railed against God and tortured myself with visions of hunting down another human being to exact my Louisville slugger vengeance, which - thankfully - passed after a period of time.

It was with deep sadness that I began to read the news accounts of the purported massacre in Haditha, in which a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians. The dead included women and six children; some were shot in the head and some in the back, and the ugly words "execution-style killings" have been used by investigators to describe the November 19, 2005 incident.

The killings were reportedly a violent payback for the killing of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas.

I feel sadness for the dead civilians, sadness for the American troops who face the impossible task of fighting a seemingly endless, miserable war, and most of all sadness for an America that is losing whatever moral justification it once tried to claim for the Iraq war.

The atrocities, however, in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib are only symptoms of a larger problem. The US finds itself in the middle of an unwinnable civil war, and is on the verge of widening that war into a major regional conflict by fanning the flames of hostility with Iran.


The very concept of a sovereign Iraq is a historical anomaly, as the country was created by the British after World War I. The Ottoman vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra were lumped together for the benefit of British puppet King Faisal, and the nation has only been held together by a series of strong-armed rulers. American war planners who believed that they could maintain the fiction of a national Iraq either did not know Middle Eastern history, or were deluded by the hallucination that a few years of imported American political structures could somehow undo thousands of years of religious and ethnic traditions.

Without a dictatorial strongman to hold it together the nation of Iraq will implode. An international peace conference that creates separate states from the war-torn remnants of the Iraqi state is the only solution to what appears to be an inevitable Middle East war that will likely widen into a worldwide conflict over energy.

American troops in Iraq are undermanned, underfunded, and unwanted. It is time for them to come home, before horror stories like those in Haditha become everyday occurrences, and before the region devolves into an even bloodier contest for petroleum dominance.

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

--Groucho Marx

May 26, 2006

Very Cool Website on Historical World Rulers

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Left: St. Edward's crown, worn by British monarchs

True, I am a history geek, and I am working toward my PhD in European Expansion.

But how cool is a website that lists every known ruler and head of state, plus other figures like popes, patriarchs, and archbishops?

Way cool, in my opinion. Check out Rulers.org for all of those useless bits of trivia that win bar bets and keep doctoral students on their toes.

The site also provides month-by-month summaries of important world events.

A hat tip to Miland at World History Blog for this reference source. He adds that he has found a few missing pieces of information, such as the monarchs of the 19th-century Hawaiian Kingdom, but I was unable to find any factual errors in my hour of perusal.

Pat Robertson: 2000-Pound Leg Press Savant

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I thought celebrity leg pressing stories were strange when I read that Madeleine Albright claims the ability to leg press 400 pounds.

According to the Christian Broadcast Network web site, however, televangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club can bench press 2,000 pounds.

For comparison, the leg-press record for football players at Florida State University is 1335 pounds.

CBN spokeswoman Angell Vasko said today that Robertson was not available for comment, but she was enthusiastic about his lifestyle.

"Pat is so healthy," she said. "This is something he trained for over an extended period of time. He lives a very healthy, regimented life."

Addendum, 7:25 pm: CBS Sportsline has a video of Pat Robertson purportedly leg pressing the one ton of weights. If all of the 45.4 kg weights are indeed real, then Robertson is one superbad 76-year-old (he mentions in the video that is 74, so the video is a bit dated).

Review: The Children's Blizzard

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Laskin, David. Harper Collins, 2004, 320 pages.

On January 12, 1888 an immense blizzard suddenly roared across the Great Plains, killing hundreds of people. Many of the victims were children on their way home from school or helping on family farms.

Laskin's book culls information from newspaper accounts, diaries, and government documents to piece together a troubling vignette of life on the prairie in the late 19th century. The book is equal parts historical nonfiction, detective novel, and weather drama.

Laskin does take liberties with the thoughts of victims as they lay huddled in the bitter cold, lost in a blinding storm of epic proportions. However, as this is written for a general audience, one can forgive the author's desire to more fully develop the characters.

As a weather geek I found the book informative and compelling. Despite the advances in meteorology, though, we yet remain at the mercies of an indifferent, unpredictable Mother Nature.

There some interesting themes that Laskin explores that bear worth further exploration by other historians. The author's descriptions of the political battles in the Signal Service bureacracy are a fascinating reminder of the everpresence of organizational subterfuge, and the attention that Laskin gave to the nascent US Weather Service suggests another area for more work.

While not footnoted, Laskin provided chapter-by-chapter references on his sources, and the text has a thorough index for those seeking to mine it for specific information.

I recommend the book for both historians and general readers, and found it to be an agreeable way to pass the time during the thunderstorms of the past two days.

The Quote Shelf

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A daily feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers. --Kahlil Gibran

May 25, 2006

Demolition Begins at Westgate Shopping Center

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Left: Little remains of the Westgate Rite Aid; pictures by historymike

(Toledo, OH) While on my way to run errands I drove past the Westgate Village Shopping Center, which is being renovated to accommodate a new Costco store.

Demolition on the old southern wing of the center commenced this week, and crews are wasting little time removing the old structure.

I was able to snap a dozen photos before a patrolling security vehicle approached. I was politely told to vacate the area; I suppose my thick skull was not an adequate substitute for a hard hat.


I am normally a bit saddened by the demolition of an urban landmark, but truth be told this shopping center has seen better days in the past. I miss Boogie Records and Thackeray's Books, but these cherished local institutions were already victims of the growth of - and retail cannibalism by - national chains.

I have a few favorite Westgate businesses that still remian, such as the Coney Island and the Radio Shack. These are open in the west wing of the complex, which can only be reached by the Central Avenue entrance.

If nothing else the reborn Westgate should act as a magnet for commercial development in the Central-Secor area. I just hope that the city and the developers have a plan that will justify the millions given out in tax abatements.

Letter From Attorneys for Hastert to ABC: "Libel"

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This is the text of a letter To ABC News President David Westin from attorneys representing House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Thanks to Raw Story

David Westin
George Stephanopoulos
Brian Ross
ABC News
7 West 66th St.
New York, NY 10023

RE: False Story Regarding Justice Department Investigation



Dear Mr. Westin, Stephanopoulos, and Mr. Ross:

At 7:25 p.m., the Statement of the Department of Justice confirmed:

“Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.”

At 10:21 p.m., you wrote:

“Whether they like it or not, members of Congress, including Hastert, are under investigation,” one federal official said tonight.”

This statement is false, and your republication of it after actual knowledge of its falsity constitutes libel and defamation. ABC News’ continued publication of this false information, after having actual knowledge of its falsity, evidences a specific and malicious intent to injure and damage Speaker Hastert’s reputation by continued repetition of a known falsehood.

We will take any and all actions necessary to rectify the harm ABC has caused and to hold those at ABC responsible for their conduct.

Please advise regarding who will accept service of process to remedy this intentional falsehood.

Very truly yours,
J. Randolph Evans
Stefan C. Passantino
Counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert

Verdict on Enron's Lay and Skilling: GUILTY

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Left: Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling in happier times

(Houston, TX) The jury in the fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron chief executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling has reached a verdict. Skilling was found guilty oon 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, bank fraud, and wire fraud charges, and Lay was found guilty on all six counts with which he was charged.

In a separate trial Lay was found guilty guilty of four bank fraud charges for illegally using money from $75 million in personal loans to buy stock.

Lay, 64, faces up to 45 years in prison, while the convictions against Skilling carry maximum sentences of 185 years.

The panel of eight women and four men reached their decision one day after making their a request for additional materials from US District Judge Sim Lake, notifying him that they needed trial transcripts and a list of exhibits.

Skilling is free on a $5 million bond, while Lake said Lay must post a $5 million bond and give up his passport to stay out of jail until sentencing, which is set for September 11.

Developing...

Hastert, DOJ Deny Investigation; ABC Stands Pat

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(Washington, DC) ABC News appears to be sticking by its story that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is "in the mix" of politicians being investigated by the Justice Department in the bribery scandal related to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Hastert, issued the following statement regarding the ABC Nightly News story that aired last night:

"The ABC News report is absolutely untrue. As confirmed by the Justice Department, 'Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.' We are demanding a full retraction of the ABC News story. The Speaker’s earlier statement issued today to ABC News accurately reflects the facts regarding this matter."

ABC has now posted a link to a second DOJ statement by Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty:

"With regard to reports suggesting that the Speaker of the House is under investigation or 'in the mix,' as stated by ABC News, I reconfirm, as stated by the Department earlier this evening, that these reports are untrue."

As I see it, several possibilities exist:

1. ABC News flat out got the story wrong;
2. The Justice Department plans to investigate Hastert, but has not started yet;
3. The statement by ABC and the DOJ may contain some rhetorical spin that needs further dissection to get at the truth of the matter.

ABC’s sources said that the denial by the Justice Department was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal "target" or "subject" of the investigation.

"Whether they like it or not, members of Congress, including Hastert, are under investigation," one federal official told ABC.

Developing...

Transcript of ABC News Investigation of Hastert

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Left: Brian Ross of ABC News

Transcript of the ABC News report claiming that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is "in the mix" of politicians being investigated in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal.

VARGAS: Good evening. We begin with a major development in a Washington bribery scandal.

Tonight, sources tell ABC NEWS the case involving convicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, has led FBI investigators to some of the most powerful members of congress, namely the man, second in line for the presidency, after the vice president.

This is a story with potentially major political implications. And our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, joins us with his exclusive report. Brian...

ROSS: Elizabeth, federal officials tell us the bribery investigation now includes the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, based on the testimony from convicted lobbyists.

Justice Department officials describe the 64-year-old Illinois Republican as very much in the mix of the corruption investigation.

Part of the investigation is said to involve a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the secretary of the interior, to block a casino on an indian reservation that would have competed wit the other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by Jack Abramoff, who has reportedly disclosed his deals with Hastert. The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for hastert, at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

Hastert denied any unlawful connection, and said he would donate to charity, any campaign contributions he received from Abramoff or his clients. This week, following the FBI raid of another congressman under investigation, testimony William Jefferson of Louisiana, Hastert was outspoken in his criticism of the FBI.

HASTERT: We are not trying to protect any individual. But we want to protect the house, as far as a constitution.

ROSS: A spokesman for Hastert said the speaker was unaware he was the subject of any investigation. And there had been no requests for documents. The spokesman said Hastert had a long line of opposing casinos. This is at the very beginning. The allegations could prove unfounded. But what's clear from all this, is the FBI intends to take this case as far as it goes.

VARGAS: George Stephanopoulos joins us now. The political implications if Speaker Hastert is now a target of the FBI investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Potentially seismic, Elizabeth. And it is going to depend on the facts and whether prosecutors can demonstrate a quid pro quo, that Hastert took that official action, in return for the campaign contribution. As Brian said, he has denied that. But if he can prove that, they can get an indictment, this would be a political earthquake.

VARGAS: That's a big 'if'. This is the find of charge that's exceedingly difficult to prove.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly right. And it's been, frankly, common practice in Washington. There's 33 members of congress who wrote letters to the interior secretary and got campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff. If Hastert is facing that kind of scrutiny, they may, too. A lot of heads could roll.

End of tanscript

The Quote Shelf

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I have been in the habit of printing quotes in the header of my blog, but I think it would be less time consuming just to make the quotes a separate post. This will also give readers an opportunity to comment on my choice of quoted material.

Here, then, is the first installment of this new daily feature
:

I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me. -- Dave Barry

May 24, 2006

Blade Writer George Tanber Admits Pulitzer Letter

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(Toledo, OH) Editor and Publisher broke a story this afternoon about longtime Toledo Blade reporter George Tanber, who apparently admitted writing the infamous eight-page letter to the Pulitzer committee detailing the reasons why the Blade series on Coingate was "tainted."

The Blade reporter told E&P that he was suspended without pay today after informing editors of his involvement in the letter.

Tanber, who provided a copy of his two-page statement to E&P, said that he "did not sign the letter because I wanted the focus to be on the message, not on me. But I did provide an e-mail address to the Pulitzer board to contact me for further information or questions. No one did."

Tanber said that his decision to come forward was based on his desire to prevent innocent employees from being falsely accused.

"I have chosen to come forward because I don't want this investigation to continue at the expense of others," he said. "Already, some colleagues and others have been unfairly blamed and targeted. The responsibility is mine alone."

The Coingate series exposed corruption in Toledo and Ohio state politics involving coin dealer and political fund raiser Tom Noe. Noe is currently on trial for crimes related to millions of dollars in Bureau of Worker's Compensation funds that are missing, as well as federal campaign finance violations.

The state of Ohio alleges that many thousands of dollars of BWC monies wound up in campaign accounts of dozens of elected officials, including the 2004 campaign of President Bush and that of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a probe that was related to Coingate outgoing Ohio Governor Bob Taft was convicted of misdemeanor ethics charges in 2005.

The Pulitzer letter involved charges that a former Toledo Blade writer, Fritz Wenzl, knew about the Coingate story and deliberately sat on the explosive material out of loyalty to the Noes. Given the close outcome of the 2004 election, some pundits have speculated that Ohio - and thus the 2004 presidential election - might have gone to John Kerry had the story broken earlier.

Toledo Blade editor Ron Royhab has publicly denied that the paper ever knew about details of the Coingate scandal prior to 2005, and credits its Columbus bureau with initially breaking the story.

For those who wish to understand the chronology of the complicated Wenzl-Coingate link, I suggest the excellent Salon.com article by Bill Frogameni.

Developing...

Ohio Releases New Data on Deadly C-diff Bacterium

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Left: Clostridium difficile

(Columbus, OH) Beginning in January, the Ohio Department of Health began requiring health care providers and long-term residential facilities to report cases of Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C-diff.

The bacterium can cause severe diarrhea, colitis and in some cases, death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a new, more aggressive strain of the bacterium has evolved that is resistant to many of the traditional antibiotic treatments.

There were 3,246 new cases of C-diff reported to the ODH in the first three months of this year, and 1,715 recurrent cases in the same period.

In Lucas County, 114 new cases of C-diff were reported by area hospitals and nursing homes from January through March, with 62 recurrent cases reported.

C-diff was the source of as many as 21 deaths in Cleveland-area hospitals in 2005 and was identified as the cause of more than 100 deaths at a hospital in Quebec, Canada.

The results of the first quarter reporting will help the state better monitor C-diff outbreaks in the future, according to Jay Carey of the Ohio Department of Health.

"Mandatory reporting of C-diff cases helps establish a baseline for future reference," he said. "In the past we would hear anecdotal evidence of outbreaks, but we did not have a gauge with which to measure what typical levels of C-diff should be."

Carey said the department is considering whether to continue the mandatory reporting past the original six-month trial.

Summit County had the highest rate of infection in the first quarter of 2006, with 4.29 new cases of C-diff per 1,000 people. Lucas County had a rate of 2.53 cases per 1,000 people.

Carey cautioned against reading too much into these statistics.

"Some counties will report higher rates simply because more hospital and nursing home facilities exist there," he said. Wood County, with only seven reported cases and just one hospital, has an artificially low rate when compared with the eight hospitals in Lucas County."

In addition, county statistics can be skewed by results from one facility, he said. An outbreak in one Mahoning County nursing home in late January in which 19 patients contracted C-diff accounted for almost 23 percent of the county's cases.

Carey said the spread of the antibiotic-resistant strain of C-diff has forced the state of Ohio to remain on guard.

This article is also available on the Toledo Free Press website.

Rapid Rhetoric - TELAESTHESIA

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This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

telaesthesia - n. the perception of events, objects, or people not actually present or nearby. Persons claiming this ability often make such declarations through the interpretation of physical changes in the body - such as throbbing, twitching, itching or whistling in the ears - or through external phenomena, such as blowing winds, ripples in water, or unexplained sounds.

This site describes Punka-Punkara, a form of telaesthesia practiced by aboriginal peoples of Western Australia.

May 23, 2006

Human-to-Human Bird Flu in Indonesia?

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Left: Avia flu H5N1

(North Sumatra, Indonesia) All seven confirmed cases of avian flu - six of whom have died - appear to be part of a cluster of human-to-human transmission of the virus, according to World Health Orgnization (WHO) officials.

WHO continues to search for a "possible alternative source" for the infection. Given the fact that at leat three of the victims spent the night of April 29 in a room with the index case, a 10-yeqr old boy, and the other victims lived nearby, the likelihood is strong that the H5N1 virus is developing more efficient means of spreading to humans.

218 cass of bird flu have been recorded by WHO since 2003, most of which can be traced to direct contact with infected or dead birds. A WHO official admitted that the agency may raise the pandemic alert level.

"Considering the evidence and the size of the cluster, it's a possibility," said Maria Cheng in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. "It depends on what we're dealing with in Indonesia. It's an evolving situation."

Developing...

On William Jefferson and Office Searches

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Left: Rep. William Jefferson speaking to reporters

(Washington, DC) The disclosure that Louisiana congressman William Jefferson was videotaped accepting a purported $100,000 bribe was another disheartening moment for Americans already distrustful of their leaders. Still more damning to Jefferson was the alleged recovery of $90,000 in cash from his freezer.

I find it difficult to envision a scenario in which Jefferson can satisfactorily explain this in either a court of law or that of public opinion, but perhaps one does indeed exist.

"There are two sides to every story; there are certainly two sides to this story," he said at a recent news conference. "There will be an appropriate time and forum when that can be explained."

A new issue, however, arose on Sunday as FBI investigators raided Jefferson's space in the Rayburn House Office Building. This move appears to be without precedent, and raises troubling issues about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

On the surface it appears that little could be gained from searching Jefferson's office; surely a videotape and seized cash are strong pieces of evidence if and when this case goes to trial. Some Beltway speculation argues that the office raid was merely an attempt to put more pressure on Jefferson to accept a plea and avoid a costly, embarassing trial.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle were quick to question the unprecedented raid. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) called the move an "overreaching and abuse of power by the Executive Branch," while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that "Justice Department investigations must be conducted in accordance with Constitutional protections and historical precedent."

Both politicians are correct.

This raid should be interpreted as a metaphor of the Bush administration's arrogant lack of regard for legal precedent and constitutional law. The thinking in the White House and the Justice Department seems to be that whenever a law or precedent gets in the way of a larger goal, it can be bypassed.

If Jefferson is guilty of corruption, he should be tried in a court of law and sentenced to the appropriate punishment. Those who trade the public good for thirty pieces of silver deserve our scorn.

The Justice Department, though, should be the one government agency most dedicated to upholding the laws it is supposed to be enforcing, as it is a very symbol of the rule of law.

Historymike Hits MSNBC

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(Toledo, OH) A big tip of the hat to Jake at Phillies 2008, the website for Libertarian presidential candidate George Phillies, who forwarded me the link to an MSNBC clip featuring my blog.

Click here for the video.
The segment briefly discusses an essay I wrote about Loretta Nall, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in Alabama.

Links and More Links

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(Toledo, OH) On Tuesdays, I perform my duties as a member of the Open Trackback Alliance and highlight some sites and posts that I found noteworthy on the sites of other members.

Follow this link to learn more about the project, which was developed by Samantha Burns.

Other interesting OTA blogs I visited this week: TMH's Bacon Bits, the unusual Quietly Making Noise, the wacky Mental Rhinorrhea, the wretched hive of scum and Villainy at Pirate's Cove, tales and observations from the Beatnik Samurai known as Stray Dog, and the good fun at 7 Deadly Sins.

May 22, 2006

Latin American Stocks, Currency Take Beating in Capital Flight

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(Sao Paulo and Mexico City) Most Latin American stock markets and currencies weakened sharply today as international investors fled emerging markets over worries about rising US interest rates and fears of a global recession.

By midday the Brazilian real was down 4.3 percent to 2.3 to the US dollar, as compared with 2.2 to the dollar at Friday's close.

The stock markets in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia fell over 4 percent. Chile's IPSA stock index fell about 1.2 percent, while the Chilean peso weakened 1.5 percent against the dollar.

"It's part of a global movement away from emerging markets," said Solange Srour, who is the chief economist for Mellon Global Investments Brazil. "There's a general aversion to risk, but Brazil is in better position to weather it than many other countries."

The Latin American sell-off followed large losses in Asian and European markets earlier today.

"Emerging markets assets have had three years of exuberance, so it wouldn't be a surprise that in a period of uncertainty Brazilian assets would give back some gains," said Luiz Fernando Figueiredo, manager of the Sao Paulo-based hedge fund Maua Investimentos. "There's more uncertainty in global financial markets now due to inflation concerns, on the back of high commodities prices, and tightening cycle of interest rates in the US."

Email Scam - Work From Home

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(Toledo, OH) In my email today was an invitation from an Olga Orlova to join a company called Logikpost.com. The company is allegedly hiring people for "Correspondence manager," "Shipping manager," and "Regional agent/money manager" positions.

Aside from the fact that the site is rife with grammatical errors, and that the website was privately registered exactly 12 hours ago, the opportunity sounds intriguing. One need only work "8-10 hours week" to earn $38,000 per year, with "pay oyts every 2 weeks."

From the email:

Logikpost company is looking for new candidates for the shipping manager position. We are the world's largest global transportation company, operating in more than 18 countries and territories and employing 200 people worldwide. Many Internet auctions and stores in the US do not ship the products overseas. As the result thousands of customers in Europe and Asia are not able to access the large market and purchase high-quality merchandise at so low prices. Our service is in the ever-growing demand. Today we have more then 80 merchandise managers on the territory of the United States and Canada but quantity of our customers increases and we plan to expand.

Olgo Orlova, by the way, is the name of a singer who was in the popular Russian girl group Blestyashchie (Блестящие, or "The Brilliants") before she became pregnant. So this is perhaps the equivalent of getting an email from Ginger Spice about a job opportunity.

There is also an aristocratic historical figure named Olga Orlova, who was the daughter of Prince & Princess Konstantin Belosselsky-Belozersky. She was related to the Romanovs and also Queen Victoria of England.

The company provides only P.O. boxes and fax numbers, plus Yahoo.email addresses. They also are very desirous to work with people who have PayPal accounts, which most likely means that they will try to scam you out of your password or account number.

They might even be designing a scam in which you must first "secure" your payment with a "deposit" that, of course, will rapidly vanish.

"Olga" has the following email addresses for willing dupes: olga_orlova78@yahoo.com and o.orlova@leehom.net.

If you get taken by Logikpost.com, you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that either a pop star or Russian nobility stole your money.

Jittery Investors Nervous About Markets

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(New York) US stock futures are down sharply coming into Monday, suggesting the possibility of a sell-off. The Dow is down 4.5 percent from its record high two weeks ago, losing 300 points and 2.1 percent just last week.

Overseas markets took a hit today. Japan's Nikkei index fell 297.58 points today, or 1.84 percent, to 15,857.87, while India's BSE Sensex closed with a loss of 457 points, or 4.34 percnt.

At one point trading on the Sensex had to be temporarily shut down because the index hit an automtic tigger when losses exceeded 10 percent.

In Europe London's FTSE is 0.7 percent lower, while Paris and Frankfurt are down about 1% in mid-day trading.

May 21, 2006

If English Was a Requirement for Immigrants...

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Left: China One Buffet promotional banner on Sylvania Avenue

(Toledo, OH) President Bush has expressed approval of two competing bills that have passed in the Senate. The more controversial of the two calls English the "national language," while the second calls it a "common and unifying language."

If perfect English was spoken by all residents, though, we might miss out on beauties like this.

I have eaten at the China One Buffet. Twice. The food quality was everything one would expect from a buffet, the restaurant was clean, and English appears to be the second- or third-most spoken language in the restaurant.

If people feel better believing that English is the law, so be it. The reality, however, is that immigrants (whether legal or illegal) will continue to speak whatever language with which they are most comfortable.

And they - just like we sometimes do when traveling abroad - will occasionally mangle the "official" language, much to the amusement of the locals.

Drudge Keeps Trying to Fan "Iran Badges" Story

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(New York) The Drudge Report continues to try to breathe life into a debunked story about the Republic of Iran passing legislation forcing Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities to wear colored clothing badges, reminscent of Nazi Germany.

Drudge is now running a link with the headline "Canadian Prime Minister says Iran 'capable' of introducing Nazi-like clothing labels..."

The problem with this is that this statement is taken out of context. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was ambushed by reporters on Friday with a loaded question about the false story, and he gave a conditional statement, adding that he had not been able to verify the story.

Today, then, Drudge is running as "news" a two-day-old, discredited story with a quote from the Canadian PM that is misleading and non-contextual.

Numerous websites - including the Drudge Report - ran this piece of disinformation about the government of Iran on Friday that was likely hatched by Iranian exiles in Canada.

Matt Drudge's site blared the headline "IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS" from about 11:00 am until 5:00 pm EST on Friday May 19. The site removed the link to the original article, but did not provide an acknoledgement of its error.

My requests for a statement from the Drudge Report have not been answered.

Continuing...

Addendum, 4:32 pm: The Drudge Report no longer has the link to the discredited "Iran Badges story." Still no response to my requests for a comment, and I am not holding my breath .

May 20, 2006

Fear Not the Explosions, Toledo

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(Toledo, OH) Residents of West Toledo, Sylvania, and anyone outside that area with good hearing might be alarmed by loud explosions.

An infantry night fire demonstration by Civil War reenactors started about 9:00 pm. Battle reenactments will take place at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm Sunday as part of a Civil War reenactment at Wildwood Metropark.

Thanks to WUPW for the heads up. I am sure that Toledo Police and 911 are getting a high number of calls wondering if terrorists are attacking Toledo.

Rapid Rhetoric: LAMBREQUIN

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This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

lambrequin - n. an ornamental hanging over the upper part of a window or along the edge of a shelf. A lambrequin can also be a border pattern with draped effect in ceramic objects, or a helmet decoration.

Click the links for photos of lambrequin uses; it is easier to show a lambrequin than to describe one with words.

Showcasing His Art

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Left: Keeping shop

(Toledo, OH) Bill Sturm displays his wares in the grass along South Avenue, hoping that the rain that has drenched the area will not return.

"I lost probably eight of the last ten days to the rain," said the craftsman. "It's pretty hard to make a sale in the rain."

Strum is a cane maker, and each of his finely-crafted canes are unique works of art.

"I use oak, birch and hickory for my canes," he said. "Every one of them is like one of my children."
Left: A few of Bill's canes

This particular location, near Detroit Avenue on the edge of Highland Park, has been particularly successful for him.

"I have been here about three years, and I am very happy with the site," said Sturm. "I have been able to sell as many as seven or eight a day."

That might not sound like much of a living until one considers the price of his canes, which start "around $35."

"Every one has a different price, and I have sold them for as much as $150," he said, adding that purchasers have traveled from as far away as Columbus, OH for his sturdy canes.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on this stretch of South Avenue, and Bill Sturm is the sort of throwback artisan in rare supply these days.

May 19, 2006

Drudge Report Duped by "Iran Badges" Story

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(Toledo, OH) Numerous websites - including the Drudge Report - fell victim to a piece of disinformation about the government of Iran today that was likely hatched by Iranian exiles in Canada.

Matt Drudge's site blared the headline "IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS" from about 11:00 am until 5:00 pm EST. The site has since removed the link to the original article.

The Canadian paper National Post began the rumor-mongering this morning with a report that a new law has been passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities to wear colored badges to identify them as non-Muslims.

The paper quoted Iranian expatriates living in Canada who said that that the Iranian parliament - the Islamic Majlis - passed a law this week that also set a dress code for all Iranians, requiring them to wear nearly identical "standard Islamic garments" instead of Western-style clothing.

The paper has since taken down the story and issued a new article with the headline: "Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue." The Drudge Report simply made the link evaporate without any explanation, and its many thousands of daily visitors have been misinformed.

Numerous Iranian sources have denounced the misleading story in the past few hours.

My calls seeking an official statement from the Iranian embassy and state news agency IRNA have been forwarded, and responses to emails I sent have yet to be answered. I have not yet received a response from Matt Drudge, either.

Michelle Malkin, who initially plunged into the story, acted in an honorable and responsible fashion by providing updates that kept readers informed of news reports debunking the story. Her 12:20 pm update noted that the "Report may not be true."

Developing...

Addendum, 7:56 pm: I just received the following statement from Fariborz Jahansoozan, director of the Iranian Embassy in Washington, DC:

Dear Mr. Brooks: It is nonsense and categorically denied. Are you inquiring about the so-called article that has apparently appeared in a Canadian tabloid? Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Regards,

Jahansoozan